We’re going to stretch out the drama here by running the top 20 moments of this series in installments of five each. Check back later this week for more! Also, if you want or need a refresher on the previous moments, #41-50 are here. And #31-40 are here. And #21-30 are here.
20. October 2, 2014: Moustakas homer puts Royals on top in ALDS
Coming off the emotional high of the 2014 wild-card game, the Royals had to quickly refocus on a very good Los Angeles Angels team. After all, Game One of the series was played in Anaheim less than 48 hours after that victory over Oakland, and the Angels had won 98 games in the regular season. Game One was a classic pitchers’ duel, perhaps unexpectedly given that the two starters (Jason Vargas and Jered Weaver) were not overpowering. For his part, Vargas was helped by a couple of great catches by Lorenzo Cain in center field. Each team scored one run in the third and another in the fifth, but that was it. Vargas left the game after six innings and Weaver after seven, and the two bullpens continued to put up goose eggs. But in the 11th, southern California native Mike Moustakas stepped to the plate to lead off the inning. It had been a tough year for Moustakas, who had hit .212/.271/.361 in the regular season with a brief demotion to Omaha mixed in. He provided a memorable moment when he turned on a 1-1 fastball and hit a fly ball that carried just over the high fence in right field, giving the Royals a 3-2 lead. Closer Greg Holland, who hadn’t even been in the ballpark when the game began (he had been in North Carolina for the birth of his son, then hopped on a charter flight to Los Angeles and arrived in the fourth inning), recorded two strikeouts and a harmless popup in the bottom of the inning to seal the win.
19. October 8, 1980: “Yankee Killer” Gura Frustrates New York Again
Larry Gura was the proverbial “crafty lefty.” Without an overpowering fastball, he had to rely on an excellent changeup and his defense. Of course, with the funny way baseball often works, he was normally very good against one of the most powerful lineups of the era, the New York Yankees. Perhaps it was the extra motivation that came from being traded away from the Bronx, but Gura developed a reputation as a “Yankee killer.” So when the Royals returned to the playoffs in 1980, only to find New York once again between them and that elusive World Series, he was an excellent choice to pitch Game One in Royals Stadium. Gura did not start off well; he allowed a double in the first, then back-to-back home runs to Rick Cerone and Lou Piniella in the second. But after that he was nails. Only one Yankee would reach third base the rest of the game; only two others would get as far as second base. Reggie Jackson batted four times with men on base in this game. His results: a foul popup, two grounders, and a strikeout looking. That last groundout was a huge play; the Yankees had two on and two out in the seventh, with the Royals leading 4-2. Gura wisely pitched away from Jackson, eventually getting him to pull an outside pitch right to Frank White, who made the easy toss to first for the out. The Royals added three more runs and Gura finished off the 7-2 win which set the tone for the series.
18. October 31, 2015: Another opponent’s error, another comeback.
If you just looked at the result of the World Series and saw that the Royals won 4-1, you might think it was an easy win. But really, it could easily have been much closer. Game One was a one-run, 14-inning affair. Game Five went 12 innings, despite the five-run difference in the final score. And it took a late-inning comeback for the Royals to win Game Four. After the Royals won the first two games, the Series shifted to New York, where the Mets thumped KC in Game Three. Had the Royals lost Game Four, the Series would have been tied with all the momentum behind New York. As the fifth inning of Game Four started, the Royals’ offense was in a funk. After scoring three runs in the first two innings of the previous game, Kansas City had gone 11 innings without scoring. They stirred a little bit in that fifth inning, with a Salvador Perez double and Alex Gordon single producing a run and cutting their deficit to 2-1. But the Mets immediately got that run back. The Royals scored one more in the sixth, on a Ben Zobrist double and Lorenzo Cain single. But despite those hits starting the inning, the Royals could not score any more. They didn’t score in the seventh, and entered the eighth still losing 3-2. With one out, Zobrist and Cain drew back-to-back walks. That seemed promising, but the Mets sensibly turned to closer Jeurys Familia. Now, Familia had blown the save in Game One, but surely he wouldn’t do that again. After all, he had led the National League in saves with 51. And for a few seconds, it looked like Familia had retired the first man he faced. Eric Hosmer hit a soft grounder to second. It wasn’t a double play ball, but it was going to be the second out of the inning. Except that it bounced off second baseman Daniel Murphy’s glove and rolled into short right field. Zobrist scored and Cain raced to third. In the two previous playoff series, the Royals had taken full advantage of an opponent’s defensive miscue to score key runs. This would be no different. Mike Moustakas singled, this one getting just past poor Murphy’s diving attempt. Then Perez singled, driving in Hosmer for a 5-3 lead. That was all the Royals needed, as Wade Davis pitched two scoreless innings for the save and a 3-1 Series lead. The Royals were on the brink of their second title, thanks to the pressure they put on opposing defenses.
17. October 16, 1985: Sundberg’s triple sends Royals to World Series
The 1985 ALCS was a succession of close games. After a 6-1 Toronto win in Game One, the teams played two games decided by one run, then three games decided by two tallies. And Game Seven, with Bret Saberhagen pitching against Dave Stieb, figured to continue the trend of low-scoring and close. Saberhagen left after the third inning with a bruise on his right hand, thanks to a Willie Upshaw comebacker, but Charlie Leibrandt kept the Blue Jays at bay, allowing only one run before the ninth inning. The Royals held a slim 2-1 lead going into the sixth, when they broke through against Stieb. With one out, George Brett walked and Hal McRae was hit by a pitch. Pat Sheridan grounded into a forceout at third, but Steve Balboni walked to load the bases. Up stepped Jim Sundberg. You wouldn’t normally expect a 34-year-old catcher to hit a triple, but that’s what happened. Sundberg, whom the Royals brought in during the previous offseason for his defense and ability to work with young pitchers, hit a fly ball which just kept carrying, perhaps aided by the strong wind, down the right-field line. It bounced off the very top of the fence and bounded away from right fielder Jesse Barfield. By the time he retrieved it, three runs had scored and Sundberg was pulling into third. Almost all doubt had been removed from this close game. Leibrandt pitched into the ninth, and when he gave up a couple of one-out hits, Dan Quisenberry came on to get the last two outs and send the Royals back to the World Series.
16. October 3, 2014: Hosmer’s homer gives Royals ALDS edge
A few entries ago, we touched on Game One of the 2014 ALDS, with Mike Moustakas homering in the 11th to put the Royals ahead in the series. The very next night, the Royals and Angels played a remarkably similar game. Again the two starters (Yordano Ventura and Matt Shoemaker) were on top of their games, with each one allowing five hits and one run; Ventura struck out five and walked one in seven innings while Shoemaker had six strikeouts and no walks in six innings. And again the two bullpens seemed unhittable for several innings. Until the 11th, that is. Angels reliever Kevin Jepsen got the first out of the 11th, but then Lorenzo Cain beat out an infield single. With the speedy Cain on first, perhaps the Angels expected a steal attempt. Jepsen threw a fastball right down the middle and Hosmer turned on it, hitting it in the general direction of Yorba Linda. As the Royals spilled out of their dugout in celebration of their new 3-1 lead, it was apparent that the series was going to Kansas City with the Royals in command. The Royals tacked on one more run and Greg Holland closed it out to put the Royals ahead 2-0 in the best-of-five series.