Dennis Leonard’s debut was an obscure moment in the KC Royals’ 1974 season.
Kansas City was a major disappointment in 1974. The Royals went 77-85 after posting their second-ever winning season the season before. And a six-game losing streak had knocked them 9.5 games out of first place when Paul Splittorff took the mound against Jim Kaat and the White Sox Sept. 4.
Splittorff shut the Sox out for the first four innings, but Brain Downing greeted him in the fifth with a leadoff homer and Chicago strung together four straight singles to score twice more before Nelson Briles took over for KC. Briles gave up three more runs (two were charged to Splittorff) before the inning ended and surrendered another run in the sixth. The door was open for Leonard’s major league debut.
Leonard started the seventh and pitched two scoreless frames. He retired future Hall of Famer Ron Santo, Jerry Hairston, Downing, Bucky Dent, future Royal Jorge Orta, and Dick Allen. He didn’t get a decision that day, lost four times in the season’s final month, and didn’t earn his first win until beating Boston the following May, the first of his 15 wins that year.
Leonard won 21 games for the KC Royals in 1978, 20 the season before, and 20 in 1980. But for a disastrous torn patellar tendon he suffered in 1983, which sidelined him for the rest of that season and most of the next two, Leonard would have posted far more than the 144 wins he has as a Royal and which rank second on the club’s all-time list.
He pitched an inning in each of two September games in 1985, then made a memorable return to the rotation by shutting out Toronto on just three hits April 12, 1986. He finished the season 8-13 and retired.