After several heartbreaking ALCS losses to the Yankees in the late-1970s, the Kansas City Royals finally clinched a spot in their first World Series on Oct. 10, 1980. Here’s how the team broke through.
(Editor’s note: This is one of several on-this-date posts that KoK will publish throughout the 2017 postseason. They will highlight the postseason success of the Kansas City Royals over the years with particular emphasis given to 2014 and 2015—given the strong ties to the current squad.)
By the time 1980 rolled around, the Kansas City Royals were consistently among the top teams in the American League. However, the franchise had yet to reach the World Series in its admittedly brief lifetime. That doesn’t mean the organization hadn’t come agonizingly close.
From 1976-78, the Royals lost three consecutive American League Championship Series to the Yankees. The first two series ended in especially depressing fashion with New York taking the lead in the ninth inning of a winner-take-all Game 5 both times. The 1978 series was painful, too. Kansas City lost that series three games to one, blowing leads in games 3 and 4.
The following season saw the Royals lose out on a playoff spot. Kansas City finished second in the West Division to the California Angels. Ironically, the Yankees also missed out on the postseason that year, as the Baltimore Orioles took the East.
The Royals and Yankees, though, renewed their rivalry in 1980.
Unlike their previous meetings, the Boys in Powder Blue took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series with a pair of home wins. In Game 1, the Yankees took an early 2-0 lead before the Royals rallied for a 7-2 victory. In Game 2, it was Kansas City that jumped out early and held off a rally to win 3-2.
The very next day—they didn’t take a “travel day” usually back then—the Kansas City Royals finished off the sweep. It was Oct. 10, 1980 when the team finally gave the Yankees a taste of their own medicine.
After seeing a 1-0 lead quickly become a 2-1 deficit, the Kansas City Royals made sure there wouldn’t be another collapse with a three-run seventh inning at Yankee Stadium.
After two quick outs, Willie Wilson doubled against Tommy John. (Yes, that Tommy John.) U.L. Washington greeted Goose Gossage with an infield single to move Wilson to third. Kansas City Royals legend George Brett followed with one of the biggest hits of his career—a three-run homer into the third deck on the first pitch he saw.
The clutch home run shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Brett, obviously, is the greatest player in franchise history, and his 1980 season might have been his best ever.
He won his only MVP award that season with an other-worldly .390/.454/.664 line. That also adds up to an almost unfathomable 1.118 OPS. For comparison, that’s higher than Mike Trout‘s career-high OPS of 1.071, which he put together in 2017. Also Brett’s OPS+ that season beats out Trout’s top number, again from 2017, by a 203-187 score.
Basically, it was George Brett’s world and we were all just living in it. (Well, I wasn’t technically living it, and maybe you weren’t either. But you get the point.)
Close it Out
Even with Brett’s home run, the Kansas City Royals still had to close out the game—something they clearly struggled with in those previous ALCS appearances. But Dan Quisenberry was equal to the task.
I hate to say it this way, but Quisenberry had a Madison Bumgarner-esque outing. He relieved starter Paul Splittorff with one out in the sixth inning. An error in that frame allowed the Yankees to take the lead, but Quisenberry stifled the Bronx Bombers the rest of the way.
He retired the side in order in the seventh. In the eighth, New York had the bases loaded and nobody out. Quisenberry, though, got a line-drive double-play and a groundout to escape. He then pitched a flawless ninth inning to finish things off.
The win sent the Kansas City Royals to their first World Series. The franchise has since been three more times, but this one had to feel sweet.
A lot of the same players that had fallen thrice to the Yankees at this stage had finally broken through. A meeting with the Philadelphia Phillies came next, but we can save that discussion for another day.
Today is about remembering that classic Game 3 and what it meant to the Kansas City Royals. A breakthrough long in the making had finally come to fruition in one of the greatest games in franchise history. That’s worth celebrating.