Alex Gordon World Series Home Run

U.L.’s Toothpick: The 50 Greatest Moments In Royals History (#10-6)

Our countdown of the 50 greatest moments in Royals history continues. Missed some? Numbers 50-41 are here, 40-31 are here, 30-21 are here, 20-16 are here, and 15-11 are here.

10. October 11, 1985: Brett Saves The Series

So the Royals lost the last two games of the 1980 World Series. Then they lost three straight in the 1981 division series which was necessitated by the players’ strike that summer. Then they lost three straight in the 1984 ALCS. Baseball made the division series a best-of-seven affair before the 1985 season, and it was a good thing for the Royals, as they lost the first two games of that series. Yes, the franchise had a 10-game postseason losing streak going into Game Three of the 1985 ALCS. Meanwhile, manager Dick Howser had a personal 11-game postseason losing streak going (he managed the 1980 Yankees, swept by the Royals, and then the eight straight Kansas City losses from 1981 onward). Luckily, they also had George Brett on their side. The third baseman went 4-4, with two home runs, a double, a single, and an incredible defensive play to save a run. Kansas City needed every bit of that effort to pick up a 6-5 win. Brett’s big night began in the first inning with a solo home run to put the Royals ahead 1-0. In the third, he saved a run; with one out and Damaso Garcia at third, Lloyd Moseby hit a shot down the third-base line. Brett snagged it, and with all his momentum carrying him toward the third base coach’s box, wheeled and threw home. The ball whistled past Garcia’s head and into catcher Jim Sundberg’s glove. Sundberg applied the tag and the Royals kept their 1-0 lead. For the time being, anyway. Brett doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly in the fourth, but Toronto touched up Bret Saberhagen for five runs in the fifth. Sundberg homered in the bottom of the fifth, and Brett hit a two-run shot to tie the game in the sixth. In the eighth, Brett led off with a single, advanced to third on a bunt and a groundout, and scored the go-ahead run on Steve Balboni’s bloop single. Steve Farr completed a scoreless stint of 4 1/3 innings in relief of Saberhagen with a perfect ninth inning, and the Royals’ string of postseason futility was snapped. More importantly, they still had a chance in the ALCS.

9. October 22, 1985: White’s Home Run Sparks Royals

If you had told a Royals fan in, say, 1980, that Frank White would hit cleanup in the World Series, they probably would have assumed something had gone horribly wrong. After all, White’s first several years in the majors were marked by low to mediocre batting averages and little power. He was still valuable because of his glove and his speed, but not someone you would expect to bat in the middle of the order. But as White’s career went along, he developed some power. After a then-career high of 10 in 1979, White hit nine homers in the strike-shortened 1981, then reached double digits in six straight years. That included a career-high 22 in the 1985 season, which he would equal the next year. With the DH not being used in the 1985 World Series (at the time, the rule was used in alternating seasons, regardless of which league’s park the game was played in), manager Dick Howser needed a cleanup hitter as Hal McRae would be relegated to pinch-hitting. Howser’s choice was between White and Steve Balboni, who of course had belted 36 home runs that year. However, Balboni also struck out a league-leading 166 times. So Howser went with the veteran, figuring he could at least “keep the line moving,” as a later generation of Royals players would put it. The Royals dropped the first two games of the Series at home, and there seemed like a very real chance their season might end in St. Louis. But in the fifth inning of Game Three, White stepped to the plate with a man on first and no outs. The Royals already held a 2-0 lead, but they had coughed up a two-run lead in Game Two, so this was hardly a safe lead. White doubled the advantage with a long home run off Cardinals starter Joaquin Andujar. With Bret Saberhagen cruising, the 4-0 lead was safe. Kansas City eventually won, 6-1, stemming the Cardinals’ momentum. And the key blow had come from a once-unlikely source.

8. October 12, 2015: The Comeback

All that work was about to go up in smoke. A whole season of striving to return to the World Series and finish the job, the trades of top prospects for Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, the division title—it was about to come to a bitter end in Houston. Six outs from elimination in the Division Series—not even the League Championship Series!—the Royals were losing 6-2 in Game Four to the upstart Astros. Their vaunted bullpen had given up three runs the previous inning and now the sellout crowd of 42,387 was sensing victory. But in their dugout, the Royals promised each other they would fight to the last strike. They would not go away quietly, they would not quit, they would not give up. But even those in the dugout probably could not have predicted what was coming. Singles by light-hitting Alex Rios and Alcides Escobar started the inning. Zobrist looped a fly ball into center field, where Houston’s Carlos Gomez played it safe, letting the ball fall in for a single rather than attempt (and perhaps miss) a diving catch. Now the bases were loaded and things were getting interesting. Lorenzo Cain singled, driving in one run and leaving the bases loaded. New Astros pitcher Tony Sipp couldn’t stop the rally, as Eric Hosmer punched a line drive into right field for another single. Now the score was 6-4 and the bases were still loaded. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales hit a ground ball back up the middle, under Sipp’s glove and off the pitcher’s mound. Shortstop Carlos Correa was in position to grab it as he headed towards the second-base bag, ready to reverse the momentum with a double play. But the ball just kept rising, hitting the tip of Correa’s glove and bouncing into center field. Two runs scored and, improbably, the game was tied as Minute Maid Park went almost completely silent. In the space of 15 or so minutes, the entire series had turned around. Sipp recovered to strike out Mike Moustakas, but Drew Butera drew a tough walk off new pitcher Luke Gregerson and the bases were loaded again. After all that, Alex Gordon’s groundout, even though it brought Hosmer home with the go-ahead run, seemed almost anti-climactic. One inning later, Hosmer would provide the exclamation point, with a long home run to make the final score 9-6. The series was now tied and headed back to Kansas City for the deciding game, with almost no one doubting the Royals would win that one. Although it wasn’t easy (see moment 22), they did indeed win and advance.

7. October 10, 1980: Sweet, Sweet Sweep

For Royals fans of a certain age, the Yankees will always be the rival. That’s what happens when you experience heartbreak three straight years at the hands of one team. Even as the rivalry resembled the one between a hammer and a nail in the 1990s and 2000s, that hatred doesn’t dissolve. But there is one balm for that sore: the 1980 ALCS, when the Royals gained sweet revenge by sweeping their enemy and advancing to their first World Series. After a 7-2 thumping in Game One (see moment 39), the Royals won Game Two, 3-2, behind Dennis Leonard. They went to New York needing just one win to clinch, but also knowing that the Yankees had come from behind before. Kansas City scored first, as Frank White homered off Tommy John in the fifth for a 1-0 lead. But Dan Quisenberry, on in relief of Paul Splittorff, allowed two runs in the sixth (although one was unearned). The Royals were down 2-1 with two outs in the seventh when Wilson doubled. Yankees manager Dick Howser (yep!) summoned his relief ace, Goose Gossage, to protect the lead and force a Game Four. Washington beat out an infield single, bringing George Brett to the plate. Brett had struggled against the left-handed John, but he knew exactly what to expect from Gossage: heat. Brett was ready, launching the first pitch he saw into the upper deck in right field for a 4-2 lead. But the Yankees weren’t quite vanquished; Quisenberry gave up a triple and two walks to start the eighth. It looked like once again the Royals bullpen would blow a playoff game against the Yankees. Not this time, though, as Rick Cerone lined into a double play. A groundout ended the threat, and Quisenberry pitched a perfect ninth, striking out Willie Randolph to finally send the Royals to the World Series.

6. October 27, 2015: Gordon Sends Game One To Extras

Any Royals fans expecting a cakewalk in the 2015 World Series soon figured out they were wrong. Sure, Alcides Escobar started the bottom of the first with an inside-the-park home run, with an assist from center fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who tried for a running, backhanded catch only to have the ball hit his foot and bounce away. But the Mets scored single runs in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, all off Edinson Volquez, who was pitching unaware that his father had died in the Dominican Republic earlier that day. The Royals battled back to tie the score in their half of the sixth, with Ben Zobrist doubling and Lorenzo Cain singling to start the inning. Eric Hosmer drove in Zobrist with a sacrifice fly, and after Cain stole second, Mike Moustakas singled to center to tie the game. From there, it was a battle of bullpens. The Royals’ vaunted bullpen blinked first, when Kelvin Herrera gave up a two-out single to Juan Lagares in the eighth. Lagares stole second and scored when Hosmer committed an error on a ground ball. The Royals got a Zobrist double to start the eighth but couldn’t score. Mets closer Jeurys Familia came on to work the ninth, looking to give the Mets a lead in the series. He got one out, but Alex Gordon provided the highlight of the night. He drilled a 1-1 fastball way over the center-field fence, tying the game at 4-4. Not only that, he had provided a whole new generation (or three) of Royals fans with their iconic home run, matching the George Brett one we just discussed. After Gordon’s blast, a Royals win seemed certain. But it took a while. It took Wade Davis striking out the side in the 10th, and Chris Young (perhaps the unsung hero of this game) working three scoreless innings in relief. The Royals missed a chance to win in the 12th, loading the bases with two outs but not scoring. Finally, in the 14th, Kansas City got the run they were looking for. Escobar reached on an error, moved to third on Zobrist’s single, and scored on Hosmer’s sacrifice fly, ending a game that tied for the longest World Series game in history by innings and was the second-longest by time (clocking in at five hours and nine minutes).

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