The Yankees jumped on the Royals for five runs in the first four innings, forcing the ALCS to a decisive Game Five with a 6-4 win on Saturday afternoon at Royals Stadium.
Kansas City sent a motivated Larry Gura to the mound to start the game. A former Yankee, Gura had been shunned by New York manager Billy Martin before the Royals acquired him in 1976 for backup catcher Fran Healy. Gura and Martin made no secret of their disdain for each other during the 1976 ALCS, and Gura would certainly relish the chance to end New York’s season in this game. But Mickey Rivers led off with a double and Graig Nettles followed with an infield single. Thurman Munson’s groundout gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
Gura got out of that and retired the first two batters in the second, but three straight hits gave New York two more runs. Willie Randolph began the rally with a single, then scored on a Bucky Dent double. Rivers singled for a 3-0 lead.
After Munson started the third with a double and Reggie Jackson walked, manager Whitey Herzog had seen enough. He replaced Gura with Marty Pattin. But Lou Piniella singled to score Munson, pushing the Yankees’ advantage to 4-0.
The Royals rallied in the bottom of the third. Facing Yankees starter Ed Figueroa, Freddie Patek led off with a triple. Frank White hit a sacrifice fly to get Kansas City on the board. With two outs, Hal McRae singled and George Brett tripled, bringing the score to 4-2. Al Cowens followed with a walk, but John Mayberry struck out for the second time in the game to end the inning.
Randolph reached on a Patek error to start the fourth inning. Dent bunted him to second. Rivers grounded out, but not before Mayberry dropped his popup in foul territory for the second error of the inning. Nettles singled to drive in Randolph, and the Yankees had a 5-2 lead.
Without that unearned run, the Royals would have tied the score in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Amos Otis drew a walk. Patek’s double drove in Otis and ended Figueroa’s outing. White greeted new pitcher Dick Tidrow with another RBI double, making the score 5-4. But after Tom Poquette grounded out and McRae walked, reliever Sparky Lyle retired Brett on a line drive to left.
Herzog had also seen enough of Mayberry, as he sent John Wathan out to play first base for the top of the fifth. After the game, Herzog said Mayberry had been suffering from a toothache, but years later he said the first baseman had actually shown up for the afternoon game with a hangover; Herzog went against his better judgment and kept him in the lineup, but was quick to pull him when it was obvious the slugger was not up to playing.
It might not have made a difference if Mayberry was in the lineup, as Lyle mowed down the Royals the rest of the way. The southpaw reliever, who would win the Cy Young Award after the season over 20-game winners Jim Palmer and Dennis Leonard, as well as Nolan Ryan’s 341 strikeouts, would allow just two hits over the final 5 ⅓ innings.
New York added a final run in the ninth, as Rivers led off with a single, took second on a wild pitch, and moved up to third on a fly ball. He scored on Munson’s sacrifice fly. Lyle retired three straight in the bottom of the ninth, and the two teams began preparing for Game Five, set for Sunday evening at Royals Stadium.
Box score and play-by-play:
1977 baseball news: The Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL pennant with a 4-1 victory over Philadelphia in Game Four of the NLCS. Dusty Baker hit a two-run home run in the first inning off Steve Carlton, and Dodgers starter Tommy John took it from there. He scattered seven hits over his nine innings, striking out eight and walking two.
Today’s birthdays: Ed Kirkpatrick (1944), Paul Splittorff (1946)