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KC-Toronto ALCS sparks memories of '85

Brett recalls Royals' rally past Blue Jays, 30 years later @TracyRingolsby

KANSAS CITY -- George Brett was smiling.

There was a celebration going on in the Royals' clubhouse. They had defeated the Houston Astros with a win-or-go-home Game 5 victory in the American League Division Series at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night.

KANSAS CITY -- George Brett was smiling.

There was a celebration going on in the Royals' clubhouse. They had defeated the Houston Astros with a win-or-go-home Game 5 victory in the American League Division Series at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night.

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There was anticipation of what was ahead against the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL Championship Series opener in Kansas City on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX/Sportsnet), which happens to be the 30th anniversary of Game 7 in the Royals' dramatic rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the best-of-seven 1985 ALCS against the Blue Jays in the prelude to Kansas City knocking off St. Louis for the only World Series championship in franchise history.

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"That was something," said Brett in the post-celebration clubhouse on Wednesday. "It's a memory I think every one of us on that Royals team still cherishes."

Nobody, however, had more reason to enjoy it than Brett, the Royals' third baseman who was in the midst of a Hall of Fame career at the time and is now a vice president of the franchise.

Brett turned the 1985 ALCS into his special moment, highlighted by Game 3, known as The Game Brett Refused To Lose.

It was the first year that baseball expanded the LCS from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven series, which was a godsend for Kansas City.

"A year earlier and we would have been at home," Brett said. "We'd have never had a chance to win Game 5 or Game 6, much less Game 7."

It wasn't impossible, as the Royals proved. It was, however, improbable.

The Blue Jays had a pitching staff anchored by All-Star starters Dave Stieb and Jimmy Key, and a lineup in which six of the nine regulars had double-figure home run totals, and eight of them drove in more than 50 runs apiece. They won an AL-best 99 games in winning the seven-team AL East in which only two teams had a losing record.

The Royals? Well, they ranked 13th in the 14-team AL in batting average (.252) and runs scored (687), and didn't have a pitcher make the All-Star team, on which Brett was the team's only representative.

But they had that bond and an inability to accept that somebody else was better.

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Think that Royals rally from a 6-2 deficit to a 9-6 victory against the Astros in Game 4 of this year's ALDS was impressive?

Think the Blue Jays' rallying after losing the first two games of their ALDS at home to the Rangers to win Games 3 and 4 in Texas, and then coming back for a Game 5 victory at Rogers Centre on Wednesday afternoon to set up the rematch with the Royals was special?

Well, think back to that October 1985, when the Royals not only rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS, but also faced the same deficit in the World Series when they stunned the Cardinals.

"Three things [the current Royals] have is I think they really like each other, they don't want to say goodbye for the winter, and like the taste of champagne," Brett said. "That's how we were [in 1985], too."

And Brett, in particular, wasn't about to let the struggles in the first two games of the 1985 ALCS get Kansas City down.

The Blue Jays had taken a 2-0 series lead at Exhibition Stadium, beating the Royals, 6-1, in the opener, and then rallying for a 6-5, 10-inning win in Game 2. In the second game, Kansas City not only let a 3-0 early lead get away, in part because of fielding error by Brett, but also saw closer Dan Quisenberry unable to protect a 5-4 lead in the 10th.

That was when the ALCS came to what was then called Royals Stadium for Game 3.

And Brett took over.

"It wasn't easy," he said. "That team was more talented than the Cardinals. They had Jesse Barfield, George Bell and Lloyd Moseby in the outfield. Willie Upshaw was at first, Damaso Garcia at second. ... And don't forget Key and Stieb and Doyle Alexander."

The Royals, though, had Brett, and his presence was felt in Game 3.

Two outs, bottom of the first, 1-1 count, and Brett unloaded a home run off Alexander, a 17-game winner in the regular season, for a 1-0 lead. He led off the bottom of the fourth with a double and eventually scored for a 2-0 lead on a Frank White sacrifice fly.

In a five-run Blue Jays fifth, Toronto knocked out both eventual 1985 AL Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen and Bud Black to take a 5-2 lead.

Kansas City, however, answered. Jim Sundberg homered in the bottom of the fifth, and Brett delivered a game-tying two-run home run off Alexander in the bottom of the sixth.

Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Brett led off with a single, and eventually scored the game-winning run on a Steve Balboni single.

Oh, and don't forget the fancy glove work in the bottom of the third when Garcia doubled and took third on left fielder Lonnie Smith's error. Moseby followed with a shot down the third-base line which Brett backhanded going into foul territory, jumped in the air like a figure skater and threw a strike home to get Garcia attempting to score.

"And that was after the silly error in Game 2," Brett said.

The Blue Jays rebounded in Game 4, rallying for three runs in the top of the ninth against Charlie Leibrandt and Quisenberry to take that 3-1 series lead.

When the two teams took the field at Royals Stadium for Game 5, there was champagne on ice in the Blue Jays' clubhouse, awaiting a potential celebration. A 2-0 victory, however, put everything on hold, and the Jays carted the champagne back to Toronto, where Brett hit another home run and Hal McRae drove in two runs in a 5-3 Game 6 victory, setting the stage for a winner-take-all Game 7.

The Royals took command of that 6-2 victory with a four-run sixth inning highlighted by a three-run Jim Sundberg triple that floated just out of reach of Barfield, the Blue Jays' right fielder, and hit off the top of the wall, bouncing back into play.

"[Exhibition Stadium] was really a football field, and that ball kept floating," Brett said. "It landed on the 30-yard line. If it had landed on the 29-yard line, Barfield would have caught it."

Within minutes after the ball landed, John Schuerholz, general manager of the Royals at the time, paid a visit to Pat Gillick, his Blue Jays counterpart, and made a deal to buy the already-iced-down champagne.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for

Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals