50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #5: The George Brett Game (October 11, 1985)

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.

It is incredibly difficult for a position player in baseball to dominate a game. He can be pitched around, and there is no guarantee the ball will be hit to him when he’s in the field. Michael Jordan might score 50 points in a playoff game; Patrick Mahomes might throw for 400 yards and five touchdowns in a playoff game; it’s hard to imagine a baseball player having a similar impact in a single game.

All of which makes George Brett’s performance in Game Three of the 1985 ALCS even more impressive. Considering the stakes, it might be the best single-game performance by a Royals position player in team history.

First, the Royals returned from Canada down 2-0 in the series. A loss in this one and they were one game away from elimination; luckily for Kansas City, this was the first year the League Championship Series were best-of-seven, or they would be in even more trouble. For the franchise, they had now lost 10 postseason games in a row: the last two games of the 1980 World Series, a three-game sweep by Oakland in the 1981 Divisional Series (a byproduct of the players’ strike that year), a three-game sweep by Detroit in the 1984 ALCS, and now the first two games of this round. For a proud franchise, this was a major disappointment. And manager Dick Howser was on a personal 11-game losing streak, since he had been the manager for the 1980 Yankees, who were swept by the Royals in that ALCS.

Several days of rain had preceded the game, but the showers finally moved out about an hour before game time, leaving a cool and somewhat breezy Friday night for baseball, with the wind blowing out to left.

Brett made an impact right away, with a solo home run off Toronto starter Doyle Alexander in the bottom of the first inning. Unfortunately for the Royals, Willie Wilson was caught stealing on the previous pitch. Wilson looked safe on the replays, and perhaps the brief argument between Howser and second base umpire Vic Voltaggio distracted Alexander. Regardless, the Royals held a 1-0 lead. The home run was Brett’s eighth in AL playoff action, giving him the record at the time as he moved past Reggie Jackson.

Kansas City had to feel good about their situation with Bret Saberhagen on the mound. The rookie had established himself as the ace of the staff during the season, and would win the Cy Young Award after it. But on this night, he was not at his best. Toronto picked up two hits in the second, but Saberhagen recovered to strike out the next two batters and escape the jam.

With one out in the third, Damaso Garcia doubled down the left field line. Lonnie Smith bobbled the ball in the corner, and Garcia hustled into third. With left-handed hitting Lloyd Moseby at the plate, the Royals had Brett play well off the bag, completely off the dirt cutout around the base, but about even with the bag. That increased the degree of difficulty when Moseby hit a one-hopper down the line. Garcia was off on contact, but Brett speared the ball, and with his momentum carrying him into foul territory, threw a strike to catcher Jim Sundberg, who tagged Garcia out.

“It happened so quick. It was just reaction. I just acted on instinct. I thought my throw would hit him in the head and I said, ‘Oh God, that’s just what we need.’ But it didn’t. It was a big play, a do-or-die play.”–Brett, quoted by Greg Boeck, Gannett News Service, October 12, 1985

Saberhagen then picked off Moseby at first and the inning was over.

Brett led off the bottom of the fourth. This time, he merely doubled, a drive off the right field fence that eluded a leaping Jesse Barfield. Brett had missed a second home run by just a few feet. He moved up to third on Hal McRae’s fly ball, also to right field, and scored when Frank White hit a fly ball to right center that Barfield made a fine sliding catch on.

The Royals’ 2-0 lead didn’t last long in the fifth inning. Ernie Whitt led off with a single and Barfield homered into the right field seats to tie the game. With one out, Garcia doubled. Moseby lined one back up the middle; it hit Saberhagen’s heel and caromed all the way out to Smith in left field. Garcia scored easily. Saberhagen had limped towards the plate to back up the throw, and when the play was over he laid down on the turf between the mound and home, in obvious pain. Howser decided to leave him in the game after a few warmup tosses, a decision that quickly backfired when Rance Mulliniks homered to right field, giving Toronto a 5-2 lead.

That was all for Saberhagen. Bud Black replaced him and got the second out, but then gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases. Steve Farr entered the game and got Barfield to ground out, keeping the Royals in range. But the situation was still grim, with a three-run deficit and four innings left.

Sundberg got one of the runs back with a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth. After Farr worked around a single in the sixth, Wilson started the bottom half of the inning with a single up the middle. That brought Brett to the plate, and you can probably guess what happened next. Alexander left one out over the plate, and Brett deposited it over the fence in left center. Tie game, and bedlam in the stands. Brett finally had to give the crowd a curtain call.

McRae followed with a double, ending Alexander’s evening. But the Royals couldn’t bring him home, and the game remained tied through the top of the eighth, with the Royals catching a break when George Bell was caught stealing as part of a strikeout-throwout double play. Replays showed Bell was safe, but instead the score remained 5-5 and Jim Clancy entered to pitch the bottom of the eighth.

Of course Brett was the leadoff hitter that inning. And of course he got on base, this time with a ground ball single that just barely got through Garcia at second base. McRae bunted Brett to second, and White’s grounder moved him to third. The Jays sensibly walked Pat Sheridan, a lefthanded hitter, for the righty-righty matchup with Steve Balboni, who walked to the plate with an 0-11 mark of his own in the series. Clancy got in on Balboni, but the big first baseman was strong enough to bloop one into center field, where it dropped in safely between three Toronto defenders.

“I could have walked home backwards.”–Brett, quoted by Chris Cottrell, Lawrence Journal-World, October 12, 1985

“When I’m not swinging good, of course they’re going to want to pitch to me. I was happy. I love hitting in that situation. That’s when hitting’s fun. If you’re afraid to go up in that situation, you have no business playing the game.–Balboni, quoted by Chris Cottrell, Lawrence Journal-World, October 12, 1985

Farr returned to the mound for the ninth, got two groundouts, and then got Moseby to pop up. Fittingly, Brett moved over to the third base coach’s box, then squeezed the ball for the final out.

“Waiting for that popup to come down, I suddenly thought, ‘I’m going to give this ball to Dick.’”–Brett, quoted by E.M. Swift, Sports Illustrated, October 21, 1985

He did just that, shoving the ball into Howser’s chest to celebrate the manager (and his team) getting those streaks behind them. Howser was, of course, appreciative of his star.

“The only thing he can’t do is manage (with the division clinched, Howser turned the reins over to Brett for the regular season finale, which the Royals lost).”–Howser, quoted by Chris Cottrell, Lawrence Journal-World, October 12, 1985

“I have never tried or wanted to take it all on myself. I just try to do what George Brett does best. If every day was like this, it’d be a boring job. These are the kind of days that make baseball fun.”–Brett, quoted by Greg Boeck, Gannett News Service, October 12, 1985

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