50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #25: Royals Win Third AL West Title in Three Years (September 26, 1978)

Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.

By 1978, winning the AL West was old hat for the Royals (oh, for the days when three straight playoff appearances would be “old hat”!). At least this time, unlike the 1977 season when they won the division by eight games after leading by 11 in mid-September, there was a little tension the last couple of weeks. Although Kansas City moved into first place for good on August 27, the lead was only a couple of games or so into mid-September. A series win over their closest pursuers, the California Angels, gave the Royals a bit more cushion, and eventually it became apparent they would be division champs again.

The Royals made it official on September 26 against Seattle. At 55-99, the Mariners had little to play for other than a small chance at avoiding 100 losses. But they put up a good fight.

Larry Gura took the mound for KC, seeking the crowning accomplishment of a terrific season that saw him enter this game with a 15-4 mark and 2.83 ERA. Although he hadn’t been in the rotation full-time until late July, his ability to make spot starts or pitch effectively in long relief had helped stabilize the staff.

Seattle got a leadoff double from Leon Roberts and a walk from Bob Robertson in the second, but Gura got out of that with a double play and a groundout. Three more grounders in the third meant that Seattle’s first nine outs all came on ground balls.

But Roberts homered with two outs in the fourth to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead. Meanwhile, the Royals couldn’t get anything going against Seattle starter Glenn Abbott, with just one hit and one walk through four innings.

At last, Kansas City broke through in the fifth. Hal McRae led off with a single, and stopped at third when Freddie Patek doubled with one out. McRae scored on Frank White’s grounder, with Patek taking third on the fielder’s choice. George Brett walked with two outs, and Amos Otis singled to drive in two runs, giving the Royals a 3-1 lead.

Pete LaCock and Al Cowens both doubled in the sixth, giving the Royals an insurance run and a 4-1 lead. Not that Gura needed it, as would allow just one more hit and one walk the rest of the way. Amazingly, he did not pick up a single strikeout, but held Seattle to just three hits. Fittingly, he got three ground balls in the ninth to end the game, with a Tom Paciorek bouncer to Patek becoming the last out.

After the game, which lasted just one hour and 42 minutes, the Royals held another locker room celebration. This one might have been a little more muted than the ones the previous two years. Manager Whitey Herzog relaxed in his office with a bottle of Scotch on his desk. There had been some question on whether there would even be the traditional celebration.

“I said I wasn’t going to have any champagne.”–Herzog, quoted by Chuck Woodling, Lawrence Journal-World, September 27, 1978

“Somebody said there wasn’t going to be any celebration, but I knew there would be one. A lot of guys went out to batting practice upset about it, but when we came back there it was.”–Brett, quoted by Chuck Woodling, Lawrence Journal-World, September 27, 1978

Brett, Clint Hurdle, and Jamie Quirk livened up the atmosphere by putting on Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, and King Kong masks. Gura and owner Ewing Kauffman shared a bottle of the bubbly. Otis leaned on his locker, holding a bottle of champagne, and reflected on a year that had been something of a comeback for him; his .298/.380/.525 line and 22 home runs would be his best marks since 1973.

“I told myself I was going for average this year, and save the home runs and RBI for the playoffs. You can’t beat that logic.”–Otis, quoted by Chuck Woodling, Lawrence Journal-World, September 27, 1978

Herzog chose to celebrate the depth of his squad, which had overcome quite a few injuries to capture the crown.

“We had so many injuries, and we had to struggle with the bats most of the season. At one time, we had three-fourths of our infield out–Brett, Patek, and White. But then U L Washington and Jerry Terrell filled in and did great jobs.”–Herzog, quoted by Sid Bordman, The Sporting News, October 14, 1978

And of course, for the third straight season, there was the question of who the Royals would prefer to face in the ALCS. This time, it was a choice of the Yankees (again) or the Boston Red Sox, who were staging one of the all-time pennant races in the AL East.

“The Yankees. But not for any revenge. Yankee Stadium is bigger than Fenway Park. The bigger the stadium, the bigger the crowds. The bigger the crowds, the more money you can make.”–McRae, quote by the Associated Press, September 27, 1978

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