Friday, December 16, 2011

1976 ALCS: Chambliss in the crowd

How they got here
The Oakland A's had won the AL West five years in a row in the 1970s. But 1976 was the dawning of free agency in baseball, and Oakland couldn't afford to keep its big stars. With the good players leaving Oakland, the Kansas City Royals stepped up.

Though the Royals had virtually no power in their lineup - their number 3 hitter was batting champion George Brett, who had only 7 home runs and 67 rbi on the season - they used their great team speed to burst out to the front of the pack in the West, leading the division by as many as 10 games. They struggled down the stretch a bit, but still won the division by 2.5 games, making the playoffs in just their seventh year of existence.

Meanwhile, there was a changing of the tides in the AL East as well. While the A's couldn't afford their stars in free agency, the New York Yankees could. The Yankees happily signed former Oakland ace Catfish Hunter and, behind his leadership, vaulted to the top of the AL East in 1976. Their postseason appearance was their first since 1964, the longest drought the Yankees had endured since trading for Babe Ruth.

So the ALCS was the old dynasty against the newcomers. The Yankees did the expected in starting Catfish Hunter in Game 1; the Royals did the unexpected by giving the ball to reliever Larry Gura, who only started two games all season long. To many peoples' surprise, though, Gura pitched into the ninth, but Hunter was better as the Yankees won.

Five Yankee errors led to a Kansas City win in Game 2, while the Yankee took their turn to come from behind to win Game 3. Game 4 was a rematch between Hunter and Gura; this time both starters were gone by the 4th, while the Royals won to send the series to a deciding Game 5.

The Game
So far, the stars of the series had been Brett for the Royals and the triumvirate of Mickey Rivers, Thurman Munson, and Chris Chambliss for the Yankees. By the time Game 5 was over, all four had made their impact on the game.

First, the Yankees trio struck. After Kansas City scored two in the first, Rivers, Munson, and Chambliss combined to produce two runs to tie the game, knocking out Kansas City starter Dennis Leonard in the process. After the Royals took the lead in the second, Rivers, Munson, and Chambliss worked together to make it 4-3 Yankees.

Holding the lead, the Yankees kept going for the jugular, loading the bases in both the fourth and the fifth but failing to score both times. Finally in the sixth, Rivers, Munson, and Chambliss again struck, giving the Yankees two more runs to make it 6-3.

Then, it was Brett's turn, as he greeted reliever Grant Jackson with a three-run home run in the 8th to tie the game. At this point, it seemed like anybody's game, especially after Kansas City closer Jim Littel got Rivers and Munson in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He still had to get past Chambliss, but that would have to wait until the ninth. And after Kansas City failed to score in the top of the ninth, Chambliss had his chance leading off the bottom of the inning.

And then...

After beating the Royals, the Yankees went on to the World Series, where they got swept by the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. But that result wasn't as important as was the start of a rivalry between the Yankees and the Royals; the two teams would meet in the ALCS again in 1977, 1978, and 1980, and would throw in mutual involvement in the Pine Tar Game for good measure. The five games in 1976 were the start of a true baseball rivalry.

What I'm doing.

The list so far:
5. 1976 ALCS: New York 7, Kansas City 6
6. 1977 ALCS: New York 5, Kansas City 3
7. 1972 NLCS: Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 3
8. 1981 NLCS: Los Angeles 2, Montreal 1
9. 1982 ALCS: Milwaukee 4, California 3
10. 2008 ALCS: Tampa Bay 3, Boston 1
11. 1984 NLCS: San Diego 6, Chicago 3
12. 2003 NLCS: Florida 9, Chicago 6
13. 2004 NLCS: St. Louis 5, Houston 2
14. 1972 ALCS: Oakland 2, Detroit 1
15. 1973 ALCS: Oakland 3, Baltimore 0
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:
1980 NLCS: Houston vs. Philadelphia
1992 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
2003 ALCS: Boston vs. New York
2006 NLCS: New York vs. St. Louis

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