May 17, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general view of Kauffman Stadium during the third inning of a game between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
6. 1977 American League Championship Series, Game 3
Dennis Leonard: 9.0 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 4 K
Game Score: 76
Game Result, Royals 6, Yankees 2
The 1977 roared through a 25-1 stretch in September to seize the American League West title with the best record in baseball at 102-60. After being heavy underdogs against the Yankees in 1976, the 1977 KC Royals were now favored to win the AL pennant in their ALCS rematch with New York.
The teams split the first two games, with Game 3 in Kansas City. To try to take a 2-1 lead in the series, the KC Royals sent 26-year-old ace Dennis Leonard (20-12, 3.04 ERA) to the mound against Yankee starter Mike Torrez (17-13, 3.88 ERA).
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Leonard had taken over as staff ace in 1977, winning 20 games and pitching what would today be considered an absurd 292.2 innings (21 complete games!) while making 37 starts. In an era when pitchers expected to finish what they started, Leonard was more likely than not to end the game when he took the mound in 1977.
That’s what he did in Game 3.
The KC Royals scored single runs in the second and third innings to take a 2-0 lead, before the Yankees struck back in the top of the fifth with an RBI double from former Royal Lou Pinella. However, Kansas City answered that tally with another single run in the bottom of the frame on a groundout by Al Cowens.
Kansas City took a commanding 6-1 lead on single runs in the sixth and seventh innings, before first baseman John Mayberry booted a ground ball by Reggie Jackson to allow an unearned run to score in the ninth.
No matter, Leonard got first baseman Chris Chambliss on a grounder to record the final out.
Despite Kansas City holding the home field advantage, the Yankees closed out the final two games with wins (including a three-run ninth inning rally to win deciding Game 5 5-3) in then Royals Stadium.
The 1977 Yankees went on to defeat the Dodgers to win the World Series, including an iconic three-home run game from October legend Reggie Jackson. Despite their failure to advance, many KC Royals fans think the 1977 team is the strongest club in franchise history—even better than the 2015 Champions.
Next: 1985 American League Championship Series, Game 5