The Royals and Blue Jays will meet in the American League Championship Series starting Friday. We take a look back at the two teams match-up in 1985.
Before Darryl Motley’s home run; before Bret Saberhagen’s stellar series that led to his World Series MVP; before Don Denkinger’s famous call, the Royals had to get to the World Series. The Royals would win the American League Western Division Crown for the second consecutive year and sixth time in ten years. Their reward would be a date with the Eastern Division Champions, the Toronto Blue Jays led by future Hall of Famer, Bobby Cox.
The 1985 American League Championship Series would be a series of first. The ’85 ALCS would be the first ALCS played north of the border and the first with the new best-of-seven format (a format that would prove to be beneficial to the Royals).
The Royals were led by future Hall of Famer, George Brett; 1985 AL Cy Young Winner, Bret Saberhagen; and Royals Hall of Famers Frank White, Hal McRae, Willie Wilson, and Dan Quisenberry. They would match-up against a Blue Jays team that won ninty-nine games and were playing in the postseason for the first time led by a stellar pitching staff of Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, and Doyle Alexander with the bullpen anchored by closer Tom Henke and a lineup that featured sluggers Jesse Barfield and George Bell and the all-around play of Lloyd Moseby.
In Game One, the Royals fell behind as the Blue Jays scored six runs in the first four innings and the Royals lost, 6-1.
Game Two was full of both excitement and controversy. The Royals took an early 3-0 lead in going into the bottom of the third. The Blue Jays would rally back against Bud Black and Dan Quisenberry to take a 4-3 lead heading into the top of the ninth. That’s when Pat Sheridan, leading off the ninth for the Royals, sent a pitch from Blue Jays closer, Tom Henke over the right field wall to tie the game at four apiece.
Quisenberry would hold the Blue Jays scoreless in the ninth and send the game into extra innings. In the top of the tenth, Willie Wilson led off the inning with a single, stole second, and would score on Frank White’s controversial two-out single on a ball that appeared Blue Jays centerfielder, Lloyd Moseby, may have caught with a shoestring catch. In the bottom of the tenth Blue Jays shortstop, Tony Fernandez, would lead off with a single. After Damaso Garcia advanced Fernandez to second, Lloyd Moseby, seeking revenge, singled to right to tie the game at five apiece. After an error on a pickoff throw advanced Moseby to second and a George Bell fly out, in stepped Al Oliver and with a punch to leftfield, he would send the series to Kansas City with the Blue Jays ahead, two games to none.
Game Three is best remembered for two words. George….Brett. With the Royals down two games to none, the future Hall of Famer turned in one of the best postseason performances of all-time. In the bottom of the first, Brett would homer off of Blue Jays starter, Doyle Alexander, to give the Royals a 1-0 lead. In the bottom of the fourth, Brett would barely miss a home run on a leadoff double. Brett would come around to score on consecutive flyouts by Hal McRae and Frank White, giving the Royals a 2-0 lead. After Royals ace, Bret Saberhagen, and Bud Black allowed five runs in the fifth, the Royals found themselves trailing 5-2 and in danger of going down three games to none. A Jim Sundberg home run would cut the Royals deficit to 5-3 when Brett stepped up to the plate bottom of the sixth with Willie Wilson on first base. Brett would drive a ball over the left-center fence for a game tying two-run homer.
The score would remain tied at five apiece until the bottom of the eighth when Brett led off the inning with a single through the right side of the infield. With runners on the corners and two out, Steve Balboni stepped to the plate and dropped a bloop single in between the shortstop, second baseman, and centerfielder to give the Royals a 6-5 lead.
Steve Farr, who would pitch four and one-third scoreless innings in relief, would shut down the Blue Jays in the ninth to give the Royals a 6-5 victory and cut the Blue Jays lead in the series to two games to one. George Brett, who finished four-for-four with 2 homers, a double, four runs scored, and three runs batted in, also added a terrific defensive play in the third to cut down a Blue Jays rally.
In Game Four, Charlie Liebrandt would continue his string of postseason bad luck after pitching eight scoreless innings and taking a slim 1-0 lead into the top of the ninth. With the Royals three outs away from evening the series, Damaso Garcia led off the inning with a walk. Lloyd Moseby would then double to right and Garcia would score to tie the game at one apiece. That would end Liebrandt’s night as Royals’ manager, Dick Howser, would bring in closer, Dan Quisenberry, to try to stop a rally. However, after a single by George Bell, the Blue Jays Al Oliver would deliver with a double down the right field line, scoring both Moseby and Bell, to give the Blue Jays a 3-1 victory and a commanding three game to one lead in the series.
Prior to 1985, the League Championship Series had been a best-of-five affair. Under this format, the Royals would have lost the series and the magical season of 1985 would have been over. However, with the new best-of-seven format, the Royals would be given hope, no matter how slim it was.
In Game Five, the Royals would score on a groundout and sacrifice fly to take a 2-0 lead in the second inning. That would be one more run than Danny Jackson would need as he threw an eight hit, complete game shutout to send the series back to Toronto with the Royals down three games to two.
Still facing elimination and with the series shifting back to Toronto, the Royals would send their young righty, Mark Gubicza, to the hill to try and force a decisive Game Seven. Game Six started out as a back-and-forth affair, with the score tied a two apiece when George Brett came to the plate in the top of the fifth. With one out, Brett hit a solo home run to give the Royals a 3-2 lead. In the top of the sixth, the Royals would get some insurance when a Buddy Biancalana and Lonnie Smith hit back-to-back doubles, giving the Royals a 5-2 lead. The Blue Jays would cut the lead to 5-3, but, they would get no closer as Bud Black and Dan Quisenberry shut down the Blue Jays to give the Royals the victory and force a winner-take-all seventh game.
The Royals would send their ace, Bret Saberhagen, to the mound to face off against the Blue Jays ace, Dave Stieb, for the right to take on the Cardinals in the World Series. The Royals would take a quick 2-0 lead after four innings and, after Saberhagen took a line drive in the third, Liebrandt replaced him beginning in the fourth. The Blue Jays would cut the lead to 2-1 in the fifth. However, in the top of the sixth the Royals would look to bust the game open with Jim Sundberg at the plate and the bases loaded and two out. Sundberg hit a towering fly ball to right field that got caught in the wind. Sundberg missed a grand slam by mere inches, instead, he settled for a bases clearing triple and a 5-1 Royals lead.
After scoring on Frank White’s single, the Royals held a 6-2 lead when Dan Quisenberry got Lloyd Moseby to ground out to Frank White and the Royals would win the pennant after being down in the series, three games to one.
The rest of the story, as some would say, is history. The Royals would beat the Cardinals in seven games to win the World Series. However, it is important to remember how the Royals got there.
Thirty years later, the Royals and Blue Jays again find themselves as the two best teams in the American League and I look for this ALCS to possibly be as good as the one in 1985.
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