Like '85 champs, Royals know how to win
This year's squad has lots in common with predecessors from 29 years ago
Twenty-nine years later, the Kansas City Royals have returned to the World Series. Shows how fickle baseball can be.
When the Royals hoisted that World Series championship trophy back in 1985, it was the seventh postseason appearance in 10 years. It wasn't that those Royals were dominating. They simply knew how to win.
The late Dick Howser, who managed the team, was months ahead of the opposition, not merely innings, and the players bought into the team concept.
It showed that postseason. The Royals rallied from 3-1 deficits in both the American League Championship Series, against the Blue Jays, and the World Series, against the Cardinals, becoming the first team to lose the first two games at home and rally to become World Series champions.
Cardinals fans will always feel they were slighted because of a blown call by first-base umpire Don Denkinger to open the bottom of the ninth of Game 6, where the Royals overcame a one-run deficit to pull out a 2-1 victory. That call would have been overturned under baseball's current replay system, but it was not the final play of the game, nor the World Series.
"Even if it's an out, it's just one out," said pitcher Mark Gubicza. "Who knows what would have happened?"
What is known is after Jorge Orta was called safe at first base, Steve Balboni hit a foul pop up that Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark watched drop to the ground. Balboni took advantage of the gift and eventually singled, moving Orta to second. After Jim Sundberg's sacrifice-bunt attempt was turned into a force of Orta at third, Cards catcher Darrell Porter scratched his nose and inadvertently changed the pitch he had called, setting up the passed ball that put runners on second and third. After Hal McRae was intentionally walked, Dane Iorg hit a walk-off two-run single.
Overlooked is that in the fourth inning, Frank White was called out on an attempted steal of second, although replays showed he was safe. Pat Sheridan then singled, which would have scored White and changed the nature of the game.
And then in Game 7, while the Cardinals' two aces, John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar, were pounded, Bret Saberhagen wrapped up the World Series MVP Award by tossing a complete-game five-hitter in an 11-0 victory.
The Royals had set the stage for the World Series in the ALCS. After losing the first two games at Toronto, they pulled out a 6-5 victory in Game 3, which became known as the game George Brett refused to lose.
Brett homered in the first for a 1-0 lead. He doubled and scored on a White sacrifice fly in the fourth for a 2-0 lead. Brett belted a two-run homer in the sixth to tie the game at 5. He hit a leadoff single in the eighth and then scored the game-winning run on a Balboni single.
When the ALCS went back to Toronto, Gubicza remembers being nervous about finding out he was starting Game 6 until Brett calmed him by explaining, "It's no big deal. We're all playing golf tomorrow if we lose."
Kansas City's ability not to get caught up in the emotions of the moment and focus on getting a job done underscored a mentality that was developed under the clubhouse guidance of McRae, when he came over from Cincinnati more than a decade earlier, and refined by Howser, when he took over in the second half of the 1981 season.
Late in 1984, there was champagne on ice in front of Balboni's locker.
"Ask Mac," Balboni said.
"You know how good a hitter he is?" McRae asked. "He's so good he struck out for the 100th time tonight and he's still in the lineup. Got to celebrate that."
On a team short with power, Balboni, who was acquired from the Yankees, had one assignment -- swing hard and hit home runs. The 36 home runs Balboni hit in 1985 are still the franchise record.
Howser never walked through the clubhouse. He even had a door to his office put in that allowed him to head directly to the runway that went to the field. He always said his office door was open if the players wanted to talk to him.
"Yeah," the late Dan Quisenberry said when that was brought up, "but who was going to walk in there?"
A writer once mentioned that Howser never worried about being second-guessed.
"Never been second-guessed," he said, "only given a chance to educate the unenlightened."
The 1985 season opened with McRae, 39, in a strict platoon at designated hitter with Orta. McRae started only 21 of the first 80 games. In the 81st, however, at Yankee Stadium, McRae not only started, but he was left in the game in the ninth inning when right-handed Brian Fisher came in to pitch for the Yanks. McRae delivered an RBI single. The Royals lost, 6-4.
Howser was asked after the game about McRae hitting against a right-hander.
"He's my everyday DH," said Howser. "In the spring, I saw how much he was cheating on the fastball inside and knew if he played every day from the start, the advance scouts would pick that up. I knew I needed him in the lineup down the stretch, so I knew I had to wait until after we got through playing each team the first time through [the schedule]."
McRae started 63 of the final 81 games. The Royals, 7 1/2 games out in late July, rallied to win the division. No surprise.
"If we are within three games by Sept. 1, we are the division champions," McRae had said in late July.
"We know how to play in September, they don't," McRae said in reference to other AL West teams.
Steve Farr was called up from Triple-A the day after a two-day August strike. He said he realized things were different with Kansas City the first game he was in uniform.
In the ninth inning, Detroit's Johnny Grubb doubled off Saberhagen to right-center.
"Willie [Wilson] has to catch that," Farr remembers muttering in the bullpen.
"Sabes has to finish off that pitch," said Quisenberry.
"The point was made," said Farr. "This wasn't about what any one player did. This was about what we did."
Everybody was accountable.
They didn't point fingers or make excuses.
Their job was to win, no matter what the obstacle.
The Royals handled their job well.