50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #1: Royals Rout Cardinals For First Series Title (October 27, 1985)

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

It was a lousy game, but you can’t top winning a World Series. This was for all the great Royals who didn’t make it to the mountaintop in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Amos Otis, John Mayberry, Cookie Rojas, Steve Busby, Freddie Patek, Paul Splittorff, Larry Gura…all of them. 

The Royals had better teams than the 1985 version. But for whatever reason, they all fell short. Fittingly, the 1985 Royals had much to overcome–a seven-game deficit at the All-Star break, 3-1 deficits in both the ALCS and the World Series, losing the first two games at home in the Series, and being three outs away from the season ending in Game Six; but ironically, this team that had to scratch and claw for every run and seemed to only play close games enjoyed their greatest triumph with a pile of runs and an easy victory.

It certainly helped that their competition was still stuck playing the previous game. From manager Whitey Herzog on down, it seemed the Cardinals were unable to get over umpire Don Denkinger’s missed call at first base in the ninth inning of Game Six, a call that opened the door for Kansas City’s two-run rally and walkoff win, although it was certainly helped by some St. Louis misplays. Herzog had basically conceded the deciding game, saying St. Louis had “as much chance of winning as the man in the moon” because Denkinger would be behind the plate. The Cardinals had been incensed about a few bad calls prior to the Denkinger one, and suggested more than once that the American League umps were favoring the Royals. But of course, the National League umps were fine. Which I suppose is convenient when you have to live with the one group of umpires the next summer.

Now…I have tremendous respect for Herzog, who was one of the greatest managers in baseball history. And he and the Cardinals certainly had reason to be upset with the call, even if it was just one part of Kansas City’s comeback. But I have no doubt that if the roles had been reversed, Royals manager Dick Howser would have figured out some way to get his team refocused. But I suspect Herzog, who had been fired by the Royals after the 1979 season, was taking this Series a little personally. 

Whatever the reason, the Cardinals would experience one of the sport’s more epic meltdowns, on the biggest stage, on this night. Things started off quietly enough, as Royals starter Bret Saberhagen and Cardinals starter John Tudor traded scoreless first innings. It looked like another low-scoring affair was in store.

But the Royals broke through in the second. With one out, Steve Balboni drew a walk. Darryl Motley pulled a full-count pitch down the left field line, but it hooked just foul. When Motley stepped back into the batter’s box, he realized his bat had cracked. After a timeout to get a new bat, Motley stepped back in and blasted Tudor’s next offering deep into the left field seats, with the ball staying on the right side of the foul pole this time. Just like that, the Royals had a 2-0 lead.

‘I’ve had visions and dreams about this. Everyone dreams of being the man in the seventh game of the World Series.”–Motley, quoted by Chris Cottrell, Lawrence Journal-World, October 28, 1985

The lead was just what Saberhagen, the youngest Game Seven starter in Series history to that point, needed.

“I was concerned how he’d come out. He was tight in the game we clinched against Oakland. He was a little tight in both games against Toronto. But tonight he came out and was good early. Then we scored, and that seemed to just make him relax. And after that he was himself.”–Royals catcher Jim Sundberg, quoted by Jayson Stark, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, October 28, 1985

Saberhagen worked a perfect third inning before the Royals added three runs in the bottom half of the third. The rally began with a walk to Lonnie Smith. With one out, George Brett hit a check-swing dribbler down the third base line that somehow eluded both Tudor and third baseman Terry Pendleton, resulting in an infield single. With Frank White at the plate, Smith and Brett pulled off a double steal, and White worked his way back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk. At this point, ABC’s cameras captured Herzog screaming at Denkinger from the dugout, with color analyst Tim McCarver speculating that he was still arguing the ball four call to Smith (which, while close, certainly seemed low). But Tudor was not helping himself; the Royals were not swinging and missing at anything, and his command was rapidly disappearing. He walked Sundberg to force in a run, and Herzog had no choice but to lift his 21-game winner. Tudor would follow up his poor performance by punching an electric fan in the dugout, cutting his hand badly enough that he needed stitches (this announcement apparently drew applause in the press box; Tudor had not been getting along with the media during the Series, to put it mildly).

Reliever Bill Campbell got the ground ball he needed from Balboni, but it was perfectly placed between Pendleton and shortstop Ozzie Smith. Two runs scored on the single, and the Royals had a 5-0 lead. The Cardinals were averaging just over two runs a game in the Series; they were cooked, and everyone in the stadium knew it. Campbell got out of the inning with no further scoring.

After Saberhagen showed no effects from the long inning by pitching a scoreless top of the fifth, the Royals removed any doubt about the outcome with a six-run fifth inning. Sundberg led off with a single, and Jeff Lahti took over for Campbell. But singles by Balboni and Motley produced a run. Lahti did strike out Buddy Biancalana, and Saberhagen bunted into a forceout at second. So there was a chance for St. Louis to escape with some dignity intact.

But Smith doubled into the left field corner, scoring both runners and moving up to third on a rare mistake by the Cardinals’ Smith, who threw home rather than making an easy throw to third that would have easily nailed Lonnie. Willie Wilson, who had struggled mightily in the 1980 Series, continued his redemption story in this one with an infield single, scoring Smith for a 9-0 lead.

“After we got the eighth run, we knew we had it. We knew if Sabes ran out of gas, we had seven other guys who could come in. The guys in the game weren’t saying much, but the guys on the bench were having a good time.”–White, quoted by Chris Cottrell, Lawrence Journal-World, October 28, 1985

Herzog made another pitching change, calling on lefty Ricky Horton to face Brett. First pitch, single. With a 2-0 count on White, Herzog made the fateful decision to bring in Joaquin Andujar, probably hoping he could find anyone in his tattered bullpen to get some outs and keep the game moving toward what looked like an inevitable ending.

But Andujar had popped off about the umpiring after he gave up four runs in four innings in Game Three. After White poked an RBI single into left, Sundberg came to bat for the second time in the inning. Andujar gestured a bit after throwing ball one, even though it was well inside. He stomped around the mound after ball two, also well off the plate. And when he missed inside again for ball three, he stormed off the mound, screaming at Denkinger, who met him between the mound and home and strongly urged Andujar to get back on the mound and pitch. Herzog came out, ostensibly to save his pitcher but really to scream at Denkinger some more. This led to a classic exchange, with Herzog telling Denkinger, “We wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t missed the call last night” and the umpire responding, “Well, if you guys weren’t hitting .120 in this World Series, we wouldn’t be here.” Herzog was ejected, the first manager to be kicked out of a World Series game since 1976 (Billy Martin, of course).

Andujar survived this argument, but not the one following the next pitch. Another obvious ball, but Andujar charged Denkinger, bumped into him, and had to be dragged away by coaches and teammates. This outburst got him suspended for the first 10 games of the 1986 season, by which point he had been traded to Oakland, where he could enjoy American League umpiring all season.

Poor Bob Forsch came into the game in relief. His very first pitch bounced to the backstop, scoring Brett for an 11-0 lead. Balboni flied out to center, mercifully ending the inning.

After a half-inning that lasted nearly 40 minutes, Saberhagen could be forgiven for losing his focus a bit. But he only allowed a one-out single in the sixth. The Cardinals picked up a pair of singles in the seventh, but no runs. Saberhagen finished out his complete-game shutout by retiring the last eight hitters, the final one a fly ball off the bat of Andy Van Slyke that settled in Motley’s glove in right field. Saberhagen, who had become a father just the night before, was a unanimous choice for Series MVP.

After the game, Herzog bounced back and forth between giving the Royals credit and disparaging them.

“Kansas City has tremendous pitching, but if they’re as good as they looked against us, they should have won 135 games this season. But we’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves. When you only score 13 runs in seven games and when you don’t hit the ball any better than we did, you don’t deserve to win.”–Herzog, quoted by Dave Nightingale, The Sporting News, November 4, 1985

“I don’t think the Royals could win our division. I don’t think they could win the American League East. They struggled in a very weak division and then they come in here and their pitchers dominate us. We were lucky to win three. This was almost a disgrace.”–also Herzog, quoted by Curry Kirkpatrick, Sports Illustrated, November 4, 1985

The Royals, though, could take it in stride. 

“The Western Division can’t be criticized any more until next year.”–White, quoted by Chris Cottrell, Lawrence Journal-World, October 28, 1985

“We have the smallest market in Major League Baseball, but we have the biggest hearts, and our fans have the biggest pride.”–Brett, quoted by Chris Cottrell, Lawrence Journal-World, October 28, 1985

“I make it a policy to never comment about what another team might do or about the umpires. Let’s just say that I’m sorry to see like that (in the fifth inning) happen in the World Series.”–Howser, quoted by Dave Nightingale, The Sporting News, November 4, 1985

“I know, I know, people were saying, ‘God, we’ve got this all-Missouri World Series. Who cares?’ Well, do you think I wanted to be drafted by Kansas City, this little town in Missouri? I’m from L.A. and I wanted to play for the Dodgers. But I’ll tell you something. I’m proud, very proud, to be a Kansas City Royal. And you know what it is we did, don’t you? We showed ‘em!”–Brett, quoted by Ron Fimrite, Sports Illustrated, November 4, 1985

4 thoughts on “50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #1: Royals Rout Cardinals For First Series Title (October 27, 1985)

  1. I wrote a long-ish response to your #2 moment (the 14 WC Game) that I was actually quite proud of- for being an off-the-cuff response, I thought it was pretty good. But it didn’t post for some reason. Probably user error on my part, but I don’t know. So to be on the safe side, and protect myself from potential disappointment (since I’m sure I was the only disappointed no one got to read my poetic words), I’ll keep this short and sweet. This was a top 5 moment of my childhood. I wrote about it recently in my own newsletter, but I jumped around like a crazy person in my living room both when Motley hit his dinger and caught the final out. Almost 40 years later, I can still remember that rush, and it’s nice to have that to tap into when the Royals do their best to kill all my enthusiasm for baseball, which is something they attempt far too often, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Royals Rumblings – News for April 14, 2023 - Balance Sportscast

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