KC Royals History: The long, long night of Larry Gura

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

The 2021 KC Royals pitching staff finished with one complete game. One. And that was a seven-inning effort from Brady Singer in winning the first game of a September doubleheader against Cleveland.

Singer gave up two runs and six hits in his seven innings. That turned out to be the next-to-last appearance of the season for Singer as he left his next start with an injury.

On one May night in 1980, Royals left-hander Larry Gura tossed nearly twice as many innings, gave up two runs and 12 hits, didn’t even get a complete game, and his team lost.

With the current dearth of complete games, specialized relievers and pitch count limits, Gura’s 13-inning start is a club record that will likely never be broken.

KC Royals starter Larry Gura was on his way to his best career season.

To set the scene, the Oakland Athletics, behind Manager Billy Martin and “Billy Ball,” were 19-17, just behind the American League West’s second-place 20-15 Royals heading into the May 21 night contest. A’s starter Brian Kingman was 2-4 through his first six starts of the season and on his way to a dismal 8-20 campaign.

A future club Hall of Famer, Gura was selected in the second round of the 1969 amateur draft by the Chicago Cubs. He was traded to Texas after the 1973 season, then shipped by the Rangers to the New York Yankees in May 1974. Two years later, the Royals acquired the left-hander in exchange for catcher Fran Healy in what turned out to be one of the best trades in club history.

Before May 21 and his marathon start, Gura was 5-2 in eight starts and had already tossed three shutouts and five complete games. By the end of the season, Gura’s best, he posted 18 victories, second on the club only to Dennis Leonard’s 20, and had a 2.95 ERA. Gura finished the season with 16 complete games and four shutouts as the Royals won the American League West for the fourth time in five seasons and went to the World Series for the first time.

After a solid 1981, Gura’s numbers declined each season and he was released by the Royals in May 1985 after three relief appearances. He signed with the Cubs, but after10 minor league starts and five big league appearances, Gura was released for the final time.

The KC Royals rally late against Oakland to send the game to extra innings.

Back to the game. His May 21 start was far from easy for Gura. He had 1-2-3 innings only in the second, seventh and ninth, and gave up an RBI double to Mike Heath in the fourth and an RBI sacrifice fly to Tony Armas in the fifth.

Meanwhile, Kingman was cruising along with a four-hit shutout through eight innings. When Willie Aikens led off the ninth with a double, Jeff Jones replaced Kingman on the mound. John Wathan singled to put the tying run on. When the A’s allowed Jamie Quirk to reach on a sacrifice bunt attempt, the bases were loaded. After Jones struck out Frank White, Bob Lacey replaced Jones.

The Royals countered by sending in Dave Chalk to pinch hit for Clint Hurdle. A double from Chalk knotted the contest at 2-2, but the Royals couldn’t push across the winning run.

Still going, Gura finished off the A’s in order in the 10th and 11th innings before giving up a single in the 12th and two singles in the 13th. At that point, Gura’s night was finally done as manager Jim Frey lifted him for the 14th inning. Gura had gone 13 innings, gave up two runs, 12 hits and two walks, and struck out six.

Unfortunately, Lacey was up to the task for Oakland and held Kansas City scoreless. After Dan Quisenberry walked two (one intentionally) and gave up two hits, the A’s held a 4-2 lead. Lacey set the Royals down in order in the bottom of the 14th and the game was over.

It was an odd season for Gura in 1980. Just four days before his 13-inning effort, Gura tossed a 10-inning complete game victory. He added another long no-decision late in August by going 10 innings in an 11-inning loss to Texas. In another start against Texas, he went nine innings in a 12-inning victory. Not only did Gura throw 16 complete games, he went at least nine innings three more times with no decisions.

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Unless there are radical changes to pitcher usage and pitching theories, Larry Gura’s 13-inning start in May 1980 is a team record that will stand the test of time.