Party like it's 1985: Revisiting the Kansas City Royals' 1985 World Series victory
By DJ SIXSMITH
College Contributor Network
Three weeks ago, the Kansas City Royals hadn't won a playoff game in 29 years. Today, Ned Yost's squad is four wins away from Kansas City's first World Series title since 1985 and second in franchise history. The last time the Royals were atop the baseball world, "Back to the Future" was the No. 1 movie in America, Ronald Reagan was President and Pete Rose surpassed Ty Cobb for most hits in the history of baseball. In honor of Kansas City's return to the Fall Classic, let's take a look back at how the Royals won their only championship over the St. Louis Cardinals.
While the Royals have only ever made it to the World Series one other time (1980), there's no question Kansas City was the most dominant American League team in the late 1970's and early 1980's. From 1976-1985, the Royals won six division titles and two pennants. This type of success was incredible considering the franchise only came into existence in 1969.
Sixteen years after its first game, Kansas City played for the World Series crown against its neighbors from St. Louis. Separated by 250 miles, this matchup came to be affectionately known as the I-70 series. But this wasn't the first time two teams from the "Show Me" State battled for baseball immortality. Back in 1944, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the St. Louis Browns, who would end up becoming the Baltimore Orioles. Having just won a title in 1982, the Cardinals were the favorites in 1985 after notching a league-high 101 wins under Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog and they quickly proved which team had experience on baseball's biggest stage.
The early part of this series belonged to St. Louis, as the Cardinals came to Kansas City and won the first two games. Game 2 was an especially painful loss for the Royals, considering they were one out away from tying the series. Up 2-0 in the 9th inning, Royals starter Charlie Leibrandt surrendered a bases-clearing double to Terry Pendleton to give the Cardinals the lead for good.
Kansas City manager Dick Houser elected to keep his All Star closer Dan Quisenberry in the bullpen and the Cardinals would go on to score four runs in the 9th inning. Fortunately for the Royals, this would be the last time St. Louis would score multiple runs in an inning during the series.
With the series moving to St. Louis, the only thing going for Kansas City was that Cy Young award-winner Bret Saberhagen was starting Game 3. Saberhagen was lights out, giving up just one run in a complete game, 6-1 victory. Saberhagen out-dueled 20-game-winner Joaquin Andújar and second baseman Frank White homered to get the Royals back in the series. However, the excitement would be short lived.
The Cardinals shut out the Royals 3-0 the following evening to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. John Tudor was masterful for the Cards, striking out eight in a complete game shutout. Left fielder Tito Landrum provided the offensive spark with a solo homer in the 2nd inning off future San Diego Padres manager Bud Black.
Landrum was only in the lineup because NL Rookie of the Year Vince Coleman (who stole 110 bases that season, good for third all-time in a single year) was injured. Landrum proved to be a viable second option as he hit .360 for the series, making him an early favorite for MVP and a major reason why the Royals were on the brink of elimination. The Cardinals had an opportunity to win their second title in four years, in front of their home fans.
However, the Royals were a perfect 3-0 in elimination games and the streak would continue. Kansas City stayed alive with a 6-1 win in St. Louis. Willie Wilson delivered the biggest hit of the game with a two-run triple in the 2nd inning, while the Cardinals mustered just one run over only five hits. This all set the stage for what would be one of the most memorable games in World Series history.
Down 3-2, the Royals returned to Kauffman Stadium still fighting for their World Series lives. This game featured a good old-fashioned pitchers' duel between Leibrandt and Cardinals righty Danny Cox. The two teams traded zeroes for the first seven innings, but this ball game wouldn't be remembered for the great pitching.
Oct. 26, 1985 will forever be a night clouded in controversy. It all began in the 4th inning when Frank White attempted to steal second base for Kansas City. White was called out, but television replay clearly indicated he was safe. Two pitches later, right fielder Pat Sheridan laced a single to the right side -- the hit would've scored the speedster White easily.
The game remained scoreless until the 8th inning when St. Louis finally got on the scoreboard. Pinch hitter Brian Harper came through with an RBI single and the Cards took a 1-0 lead. The Royals went quietly in the bottom of the frame, setting the stage for the Cardinals' bullpen to close things out. Herzog gave the ball to rookie reliever Todd Worrell and that is when drama ensued.
Jorge Orta was the first man to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning. Orta was hitless in the World Series up to this point. Kansas City's utility man dribbled the ball to the right side between the pitchers mound and first base. Cards first baseman Jack Clark flipped the ball to Worrell at first base, but umpire Don Denkinger ruled Orta safe. The call is still discussed to this day as video replay proved that Orta was out by a step. Herzog and the Cardinals pleaded with Denkinger to reverse the call, but he stood behind his initial ruling.
Things went from bad to worse for the Cardinals on the very next pitch. Steve Balboni popped up the first pitch he saw into foul territory near the Royals' dugout. Clark, who had played the majority of the season in right field, lost track of the ball and watched it bounce in front of him. The at bat continued and Balboni singled to the left side to put the winning run on first base.
After a failed sacrifice bunt, a passed ball and an intentional walk, the Royals had the bases loaded with one out for pinch hitter Dane Iorg. Iorg, a former Cardinal, won the 1982 World Series in St. Louis and hit .529 in that series.
The lefty was hitting just .223 in the Fall Classic and was only pinch hitting because a pitcher, Quisenberry, was the scheduled batter (the 1985 World Series was the last World Series to not feature a designated hitter at an American League park). Iorg burned his former team with a game-winning two-RBI bloop single to right field. The Cardinals walked off the field knowing they had blown their chance of winning the title.
The Royals came back the next night and blew out the Cardinals 11-0 in Game 7. One night after his baby boy was born, Saberhagen tossed a complete game five-hitter. Up 5-0 after four innings, Kansas City blew the game open with six runs in the 5th inning. Herzog and Andújar both wouldn't stay around to see how this one ended, as the two were ejected for berating Denkinger, who was behind the plate for this game.
The Royals became the first team to ever rally from a three games to one deficit twice in the same postseason. In fact, KC became the first team to ever win the World Series after losing the first two games at home.
The Cardinals ended up hitting just .185 as a team in the 1985 Fall Classic, the second lowest total in World Series history. Meanwhile, Kansas City won in spite of the fact that All Star George Brett had just one RBI in seven games.
This year's Royals' playoff run is a story 29 years in the making. While the memories of 1985 still shine bright, these next two weeks represent an opportunity for these Royals to make memories of their own. Royals fans may be partying like its 1985, but in a few weeks they could finally put the past to bed and celebrate like it's 2014.
DJ Sixsmith is a senior at Fordham University. He broadcasts Fordham football and basketball games on the school's radio station, WFUV, and hosts his own podcast called Game Time. Follow him on Twitter: @DJ_Sixsmith