Feb 23, 2015; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves assistant coach Charlie Leibrandt watches stretching exercises during spring training workouts at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The Curious Case Of Charlie Leibrandt
Researching this article took me through three distinct phases of KC Royals playoff baseball. The first “era” was the 1976-80 Kansas City squads that won four division title in five seasons.
As good as those teams were, their fatal flaw was their inability to close games. Twice they had the New York Yankees on the ropes, and twice they lost the ALCS on a ninth inning Yankee rally.
The second “era” of playoff baseball came in the mid-eighties transition that revitalized the old core with young starting pitchers Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubizca, and Danny Jackson. Add in Charlie Leibrandt, who had failed as a starter in Cincinnati before coming to KC for Bob Tufts, and the KC Royals had grafted a new starting staff onto an older group of position players.
Call to the Pen
This second era of playoff excellence suffered from the same problem as the 70’s era Royals: despite having one of the best closers of the 80’s in Dan Quisenberry, the team still struggled to finish games.
The third “era” of playoff success is, of course, the 2014-15 KC Royals, that featured one of the great bullpens in major-league history.
No player shows the difference between eras than the case of Charlie Leibrandt, who would likely become a playoff legend if he had Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland closing games for him in 1985.
Leibrandt’s playoff stats were a quite respectable 1-3 record with a 3.12 ERA in four starts. However, tough-luck Charlie might have finished the post-season with a 3-1 record if he’d enjoyed better support from the pen.
Charlie Leibrandt lost Game 1 of the ALCS against Toronto, allowing five earned runs in two innings. It was his only bad start in his Kansas City playoff career.
He followed up that debacle with an eight-inning gem in which he held the Blue Jays scoreless to protect a precarious one-run lead going into the ninth. Rather than pull his starter for closer Dan Quisenberry, , manager Dick Howser sent Leibrandt to the mound to open the ninth. Charlie then gave up a walk and double to Lloyd Moseby to tie the game.
Only then did Howser bring in Quisenberry, who allowed a single and double to turn a one-run lead into a three run deficit. Rather than a hero, Leibrandt turned into a goat. Leibrandt redeemed himself in Game 7 of the ALDS after coming on in relief of an injured Bret Saberhagen, pitching five innings and allowing two runs to earn the win.
In the World Series, Charlie Leibrandt again suffered from back luck. He failed to earn a win despite two strong starts. In Game 2 in Kansas City, Leibrandt held the Cardinals scoreless through eight innings, taking a 2-0 lead into the ninth. Again Howser sent him to the mound in the final inning, and again he imploded to allow a game-winning rally.
This time the Cardinals hung four runs on the KC Royals in the ninth inning. After surrendering a leadoff double, Leibrandt recorded two quick outs. On the verge of escaping, Howser let Leibrandt give up a double, single, and double to turn a 2-0 into a 4-2 loss. Only after the Cardinals had plated four runs did he bring in Dan Quisenberry.
In the one game in which Leibrandt got a late inning rally from his offense, Charlie wasn’t around to collect the victory. Despite pitching 7.2 innings while allowing only one run, Howser pulled Leibrandt in the eighth inning of Game 6 while trailing 1-0.
As most readers know, the KC Royals rallied for two runs in the ninth inning to stave off elimination in one of the most famous games in franchise history. Most people remember it as the “Denkinger Game” due to the umpire’s blown call that put Jorge Orta at first base to open the inning.
Rather than a 3-1 record plus pitching a one-run game in iconic Game 6, Leibrandt finished the 1985 playoffs with a 1-3 record and a rap as an eight-inning wonder. Today that would mean he’s a star. In 1985, that meant Charlie Leibrandt was a playoff also-ran.