On the day George Brett announced his retirement, he and his KC Royals lost to California. Brett made sure they wouldn’t lose the next night.
In a way, it wasn’t surprising the KC Royals lost the day George Brett told the baseball world he was done. Brett didn’t play the night before, but he was back in the lineup the night of the announcement.
The Royals lost to California 6-2 in front of almost 25,000 fans; presumably, most of them got their last glimpse of Brett that evening. For those who didn’t leave early to beat the traffic—the Royals trailed 6-1 going into the bottom of the ninth—Brett didn’t disappoint. He accounted for half of KC’s runs with a two-out RBI single before Mike Macfarlane struck out to end the game.
Brett finished the night 1-for-5 with his average at a respectable .270 with seven games to go. The loss left the club, already eliminated from the playoffs a few games before, 10 games behind Chicago in the AL West; the headlines the rest of the way would belong to Brett.
So would the next game.
Brett, even at 40, wasn’t so old that he needed to take the following game, an early afternoon affair following a night contest, off. The designated hitter, he hit third; Gary Gaetti was at third base, Brett’s position for so many years until a move to first and then DH became the cost of years playing the hot corner on artificial grass. John Farrell, who later managed the Blue Jays and Red Sox and whose son Luke pitched briefly for the Royals, started on the mound for the Angels.
Brett quickly pleased the fans by doubling home Felix Jose in the bottom of the first to give KC a 1-0 lead. Then, with the Royals down 3-2 with one out in the fourth, Brett belted a 1-0 pitch from Farrell for a three-run homer; the blast gave Kansas City a 5-3 lead and knocked Farrell out of the game.
But California roughed up Chris Haney, John Habyan and Stan Belinda for five combined runs over the next two innings and the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth three runs down. Batting second in the inning meant Brett couldn’t win or even tie the game, but he reached base when Steve Frey plunked him with a 1-0 pitch. Brett then scored on a bases-loaded walk to Greg Gagne and Mike Macfarlane’s two-run single sent the game to extra innings.
Late September Sunday afternoons and baseball are not a perfect match, especially for teams and fans with no postseason to look forward to—the weekend is winding down, vacation is in the past, kids have school the next day and players, weary from a long season without reward, are ready for a winter off. But for the fans who paid to see his last Sunday home game, Brett made the day worth it.
The Angels didn’t score in their half of the 10th, giving the Royals the chance to end it in theirs. California reliever Paul Swingle got Brian McRae on an 0-2 swinging strike and Keith Miller on a 1-2 fly. He then threw a first-pitch ball to Brett, the last pitch of the day to find catcher Greg Myers‘ mitt. Brett, the master of Royal heroics, launched Swingle’s next offering out of the park to walk the Angels off 9-8.
It seemed only fitting that the homer was the last of Brett’s career, a stunning cap to the weekend he announced his retirement.
He had six games left.