Monday, October 24, 2011

1985 ALCS: A Good Bad Break

How they got here
Many people must have felt like 1985 was the last chance for the Royals. Since 1976, the Royals had been competitors, but every year they fell just short. Whether it was losing three straight ALCS to the Yankees or falling in the World Series in 1980, Kansas City was always missing that one final step.

They were older in 1985. With an average age of 30, the Royals were the second-oldest team in the AL that year. Many of their stars from the last half decade were starting to show their age, too, but led by young starter Bret Saberhagen and third base stalwart George Brett, the Royals won the AL West by 1 game to get back into the playoffs one more time.

For the Blue Jays, 1985 was the start of something big. An expansion franchise in 1976, Toronto had finished last five straight times to start their existence before starting a slow climb toward the top of the standings. After a second-place finish in 1984, the Blue Jays finally broke through in 1985, taking the lead in the AL East on May 20 and never relinquishing it.

Toronto won the first two games of the ALCS at home, with Dave Stieb besting Charlie Leibrandt in Game 1 and Dan Quisenberry blowing a 10th-inning save in Game 2. Coming home to Kansas City, the Royals won Game 3 despite a bad start from Saberhagen. Game 4 was another matchup between Stieb and Leibrandt, and this time Leibrandt took a 1-0 lead into the 9th. But he tired and gave up the tying run, then Quisenberry gave up two more, and the Blue Jays had a 3 games to 1 lead.

In all previous seasons, the LCS would have been over. But 1985 was the first year that the series was changed to a best-of-7, so the Royals still had life. They won the next two games to force the first non-World Series Game 7 in Major League history.

The Game
The Blue Jays went back with their ace Stieb for Game 7, while the Royals countered not with the veteran Leibrandt but the youngster Saberhagen. The Royals had a 2-0 lead when it seemed like they got a bad break; in trying to stop a comebacker, Saberhagen injured his pitching hand and had to be taken out after three innings. But that turned into an advantage when the Royals went to Leibrandt out of the bullpen; by bringing in a lefty to replace the right-handed Saberhagen, the Royals were in great position to take advantage of Toronto's lefty-heavy lineup.

Leibrandt gave up one run in the fifth, but then the Royals offense gave him some more breathing room. A two-out, bases-loaded triple by catcher Jim Sundberg gave the Royals a 5-0 lead. After he came home one batter later, it was 6-0.

Leibrandt made it hold up. He gave up one more run in the ninth before giving way to Quisenberry to close things out. The Royals returned to the World Series, becoming the first team to come back from a 3-to-1 deficit to do so.

The Aftermath
The Royals faced in-state rival St. Louis in the '85 series, and just like in the ALCS, the Royals lost the first two games on the road. After a complete game win by a healed Saberhagen in Game 3, the Royals lost Game 4 to once again fall behind 3 games to 1. After a win in Game 5, the Royals got the break of all breaks, winning Game 6 after Don Denkinger's famous blown call gave them new life in the ninth innings. Then came Game 7, and Saberhagen, pitching one day after becoming a father, made it anticlimactic, shutting out the Cardinals 11-0 to give the Royals their long-awaited championship.

The Rundown
What I'm doing.

The list so far:

16. 1985 ALCS: Kansas City 6, Toronto 2
17. 2007 ALCS: Boston 11, Cleveland 2
18. 1991 NLCS: Atlanta 4, Pittsburgh 0
19. 1973 NLCS: New York 7, Cincinnati 2
20. 1987 NLCS: St. Louis 6, San Francisco 0
21. 1988 NLCS: Los Angeles 6, New York 0
22. 2004 ALCS: Boston 10, New York 3
23. 1986 ALCS: Boston 8, California 1
24: 1996 NLCS: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0

Still to come:
1972 NLCS: Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
1972 ALCS: Detroit vs. Oakland
1973 ALCS: Baltimore vs. Oakland
1976 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1977 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1980 NLCS: Houston vs. Philadelphia
1981 NLCS: Los Angeles vs. Montreal
1982 ALCS: California vs. Milwaukee
1984 NLCS: Chicago vs. San Diego
1992 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
2003 NLCS: Chicago vs. Florida
2003 ALCS: Boston vs. New York
2004 NLCS: Houston vs. St. Louis
2006 NLCS: New York vs. St. Louis
2008 ALCS: Boston vs. Tampa Bay

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