One swing from George Brett changed the KC Royals’ fortunes
By Shawn Bauman
Despite their playoff runs in the mid-to-late 1970s, the KC Royals always fell short of the World Series thanks to one team – the New York Yankees.
The KC Royals had quick success for an expansion team finishing with a winning record and second-place finish in just their third season. By 1976, they won the American League West and made their first playoff appearance.
They would repeat finishing on top in their division two more years in a row. Each time they squared off against the Yankees for the American League pennant. Every year they would be turned away from the World Series and this easily established a strong rivalry between the two clubs.
After losing the division by three games in 1979, the Royals rallied to once again fight for a trip to the World Series in 1980. Standing in their way, again, were those hated Yankees.
MLB.com recently released a list of home runs that silenced crowds and the first one on the list is a shot by Royals icon, George Brett. Of course many are more familiar with another Brett famous jack in Yankee stadium. However, the one in 1980 was a franchise turning point.
The previous three playoff series’ ended with the Yankees winning three-games-to-two twice and three-games-to-one the other time. Determined to end this dominance, KC jumped out to two straight victories at Royals Stadium.
Now back in Yankee Stadium, the Royals had a one to nothing lead going into the bottom of the sixth. After allowing a double with one out, Paul Splittorff was pulled for Dan Quisenberry. Despite leading the majors with 33 saves, manager Jim Frey decided he would be best used in this situation to keep the lead.
It backfired, as the Quiz gave up two consecutive singles and throw in an error that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. It was beginning to appear that at least one more game would be necessary at least and with the past in the back of everyone’s minds, could this be another heartbreaking outcome?
In the seventh, Tommy John retired the first two Royals before surrendering a double to Willie Wilson. In came Rich Gossage to try to put out the fire. He had tied Quisenberry with 33 saves and finished third in Cy Young and MVP voting in 1980.
U.L. Washington kept the inning alive with a single and up to bat came Brett. What followed was a piece of history that would go on to propel KC to their first World Series ever. The silence, as they say, was deafening.
A side note often lost in the theater of Brett’s homer was the Quisenberry finished the game pitching the last three and two-thirds innings earning the victory. Having a closer face 15 batters after he entered in the sixth would be unheard with today’s use of relievers.
This was a home run that changed the course of the KC Royals franchise. They had finally slain their giant and despite losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, it would be another building block on the way to three more division titles and finally the satisfaction of being the best team in the world in 1985.