The Royals made an emphatic statement as they scored two runs in each of the first three innings and coasted to a 7-2 win in the first game of the AL Championship Series on Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium in New York.
One year removed from a devastating loss to the Yankees in the ALCS, the Royals displayed the confidence that came from winning 102 games in the regular season, including a run of 35 wins in 39 games. Kansas City wasted no time grabbing the lead, as Yankees starter Don Gullett walked Freddie Patek to begin the game. Hal McRae followed with a home run to left field.
“Last year we were terrible in the second half,” McRae said. “This year we had a terrific streak in the second half. It’s better to win. It builds your confidence and gives you lots of momentum.”
Gullett retired the first two hitters in the second. But then he walked Darrell Porter, and Frank White followed with a single. Patek doubled down the left field line, allowing both runners to score for a 4-0 lead.
The Yankees pulled Gullett from the game after the second, but Kansas City added two more runs in the third against Dick Tidrow. With one out, Al Cowens hustled down the line for an infield single, and with two outs, John Mayberry homered, giving the Royals a 6-0 lead and quieting the crowd of 54,930.
Royals starter Paul Splittorff did his part to keep them quiet, scattering eight hits over eight innings. The lefthanded only struck out two but issued just one walk, and was able to hold left-handed hitters Graig Nettles and Reggie Jackson, the second and fourth spots in the New York order, hitless in eight combined at-bats.
New York’s only runs came in the third, when Mickey Rivers singled to start the inning. With one out, Thurman Munson homered, cutting the KC lead to 6-2. But Splittorff retired 16 of the next 20 batters, not allowing more than one runner in an inning from the fourth through the eighth.
He had some help from his defense, especially Cowens, who made three sparkling defensive plays. The best of those came when he reached over the right-field wall to steal a home run from Rivers leading off the fifth.
Cowens also finished off the scoring with a home run of his own to start the eighth inning.
The Yankees had a mild rally in the ninth, as Splittorff started the inning by walking Chris Chambliss. Reliever Doug Bird took over and was greeted with a Cliff Johnson single. But Bird quickly defused the situation by getting Willie Randolph to ground into a double play, then retired Roy White on a ground ball to end the game.
The Royals took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Kansas City planned to send another lefty, Andy Hassler, to the mound on Thursday night. The Yankees would also use a second lefthander, rookie Ron Guidry.
Box score and play-by-play:
1977 baseball news: In the NL Championship Series, Los Angeles pulled even with Philadelphia on the strength of Dusty Baker’s grand slam in the fourth inning of Game Two. The home run, off Phillies starter Jim Lonborg, broke a 1-1 tie in the game and the Dodgers would go on to win by a 7-1 count. The two teams would have a travel day as the series shifted from the West Coast to the East Coast.
1977 news: The Royals weren’t the only visitors to the Bronx. President Jimmy Carter made a short, unscheduled tour of some blighted areas of the South Bronx on Wednesday morning. Carter, accompanied by New York mayor Abe Beame, met some local residents and seemed aghast at the condition of the area, described by reporters as “bombed out.”
Today’s birthdays: Onix Concepcion (1957), Terry Mathews (1964), Rey Sanchez (1967), Yamil Benitez (1972), Aaron Guiel (1972), Brett Laxton (1973), Felipe Paulino (1983)