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.
Let’s get my first heresy out of the way right now: sure, Jorge Orta was out. It’s fun to tweak Cardinals fans by saying “Looked safe to me!” but yeah, of course he was out.
Now, my second heresy: Royals fans do love to point out that Orta didn’t even score. That’s true; he was forced out at third later in the inning. But if you check a run expectancy matrix like this one from the great Tom Tango, you can see that from 1969-1992, teams started innings with .477 runs expected (in other words, they would score a run 47.7% of the time). Put the leadoff runner on first, and that number jumped to .853. So while Orta didn’t score, just the fact he was on base made it much more likely the Royals would at least tie the game. You get that first runner on base, and things can start happening.
But there was so much more in this game that, like most contests with a blown or controversial call, the truth is that you can’t just say the call cost St. Louis the game.
Kansas City sent lefthander Charlie Leibrandt to the mound to keep the season alive for one more game. St. Louis countered with big righty Danny Cox. This was a rematch of Game Two, and this game played out much like that one. Leibrandt kept the Cardinals off balance with offspeed stuff, while Cox survived allowing seven hits by picking up eight strikeouts, many in key spots.
The Royals might have taken the lead in the fourth. With one out, Frank White reached on a bunt single. Trying to manufacture a run, he took off for second but was called out by second base umpire Bill Williams. On the video, it certainly looks like White’s foot hit the base before Ozzie Smith tagged him at the waist. The throw had beaten White, but the tag probably didn’t. Two pitches later, Pat Sheridan singled to right, a hit that almost certainly would have given Kansas City the lead.
As it was, though, Leibrandt entered the eighth having allowed just two hits. In Game Two, the Royals had scored two runs in the fourth, and Leibrandt made them stand up until St. Louis rallied for four runs in the ninth. On this night, history repeated itself in the eighth. With one out, Terry Pendleton singled and Leibrandt walked Cesar Cedeno. But Darrell Porter struck out, and Leibrandt was one batter away from escaping. But pinch-hitter Brian Harper singled to center, and the Cardinals took a 1-0 lead. It was overshadowed by what happened later, but let’s not forget that Leibrandt walked Smith to load the bases before Dan Quisenberry–just like in Game Two–cleaned up the mess by getting the last out of the inning, keeping the Royals in striking distance.
Cardinals reliever Ken Dayley worked through the top of the Royals’ order in the bottom of the eighth, and Quisenberry pitched around a two-out single in the top of the ninth. The Cardinals had not blown a ninth-inning lead all season, despite having more of a bullpen-by-committee approach; Jeff Lahti led the team with 19 saves, while Dayley had 11. Five other pitchers had at least one save. One of those was Todd Worrell, a rookie who had turned 26 almost a month earlier, albeit one who had struck out six straight Royals in Game Five. That’s who Herzog chose to protect the 1-0 lead.
Of course, Orta led off with the high chopper that should have been the first out, with umpire Don Denkinger ruling him safe at first. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog argued some, but to no avail.
“I thought he was out at first. I don’t mean to get on the umpiring, but we’re not getting too many calls. I’m really perturbed about it.”–Herzog, quoted by Dave Toplikar, Lawrence Journal-World, October 27, 1985
But the Cardinals followed that up with several acts of self-sabotage. First, Steve Balboni, suffering through a dreadful slump, hit a foul popup towards the first-base dugout. Jack Clark and Darrell Porter converged. Clark looked at Porter. Clark looked at the dugout. Clark looked back at the sky, stumbled backwards, and missed the ball entirely.
“It was a real catchable ball and it was misplayed.”–Clark, quoted by Dave Nightingale, The Sporting News, November 4, 1985
Balboni followed that with a single to left. Onix Concepcion entered the game to run for Balboni. Jim Sundberg attempted a sacrifice bunt (actually, he attempted three, fouling off the first two), but Worrell quickly scooped it up and fired to third for a forceout, erasing Orta from the bases.
Under the rules at the time, the MLB solved the “one league has a DH, one doesn’t” issue by alternating years when the DH was used in the Series. As it happened, 1985 was a non-DH year, so the Royals had a pretty good pinch-hitter ready to go in Hal McRae. But Worrell’s second pitch to the righthander ricocheted off Porter’s glove, allowing the runners to move up a base. The Cardinals did just what everyone expected, walking McRae intentionally to load the bases. The Royals had one left-handed pinch-hitter left: former Cardinal Dane Iorg.
“The opposition didn’t really matter. All I knew was that I was in a situation that you dream about as a child–to be hitting in the ninth inning of a World Series with the bases loaded and victory on the line. To get the chance to fulfill that dream, regardless of what happened, was special to me. After all my years in the game, I know how to react to a situation like this. So, I wasn’t nervous. I was too busy concentrating.”–Iorg, quoted by Dave Nightingale, The Sporting News, November 4, 1985
Iorg took one pitch, then pulled a looping line drive into right field, with the ball falling in safely. Concepcion scored easily, but right fielder Andy Van Slyke made a good charge and a strong throw to home. Sundberg slid in to home headfirst, just under Porter’s sweeping tag, and the Series was headed to a deciding Game Seven.
“I’ve been watching runners use headfirst slides to beat my throws for years. So I figured, why not me? I’ve got one more slide left.”–Sundberg, quoted by Paul Attner, The Sporting News, November 4, 1985
“Sundberg only has average speed but he’s a good baserunner. He knows how to score on a base hit; he gets a good jump.”–Royals manager Dick Howser, quoted by Dave Nightingale, The Sporting News, November 4, 1985
The Royals erupted from their dugout, with pitcher Mike Jones barreling into Iorg so hard he bloodied his nose. Many of the Cardinals sat stunned in the dugout while their opponents celebrated on the field. It was almost as if this had been the deciding game. Judging by postgame comments, it probably was.
“We’re gonna win it. Yeah, we’re gonna win it. This club has too much fight to quit now.”–McRae, quoted by Gary Bedore, Lawrence Journal-World, October 27, 1985
“Tomorrow night is the biggest game for every player in this room. We seemed to prefer playing under pressure. We’ve just reached a point where we believe everything is going to work out.”–White, quoted by the Associated Press, October 27, 1985
“We got burned on a call that cost us the World Series. Some of the umps just weren’t ready; they were over their heads.”–Clark, quoted by Paul Attner, The Sporting News, November 4, 1985
“We’ve got no more chance of winning than the man in the moon, not with (Denkinger) working behind home plate.”–Herzog, quoted by Dave Nightingale, The Sporting News, November 4, 1985
“(Denkinger) scares me. Maybe we won’t show up. I’ve got to call Gussie (Cardinals owner Busch) first.”–Herzog, quoted by Paul Attner, The Sporting News, November 4, 1985
3 thoughts on “50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #3: Iorg Sends Series To Game Seven (October 26, 1985)”
The first two paragraphs read almost like a direct rebuttal to the argument I made in my recent column on the subject, but overall I think we’re on the same page. Good stuff as always.
I didn’t intend it that way, but it kind of does. I do feel like Cardinals fans have a point, but their team did so many other things wrong following that call that they can’t use it as the excuse. Oh, and thank you very much.
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