Friday, December 16, 2011

1977 ALCS: Yankees Encore

How they got here
The story of the 1977 ALCS began with the final images of the 1976 one. As Chris Chambliss was rounding the bases, fighting through the New York crowd to find home plate, the Royals were already thinking "wait 'til next year."

Next year was another good one. Led by the great George Brett, who added power to his already sweet swing and turned into a defensive force, the Royals turned a tight AL West race into a laugher by going 35-4 between August 17 and September 25. They were peaking at just the right time, and they were ready and waiting to get revenge on the Yankees.

The Yankees, meanwhile, did what the Yankees do. After getting their asses kicked by Cincinnati in the 1976 World Series, the Yankees acquired Cincinnati's best pitcher, Don Gullett, to shore up their staff. As if that wasn't enough, they grabbed former MVP Reggie Jackson to round out their lineup.

It was no surprise that it was a rematch in the ALCS. The Yankees and Royals were the only two 100-game winners in the American League in 1977, and while neither led the league in any major category, they were both in the top 5 in virtually everything. They were solid, well-balanced teams.

If there was a difference in teams, it was at the end of games. While the Royals went to a closer by committee after Mark Littel's unfortunate ninth inning in 1976, the Yankees had the reliable and often-dominant Sparky Lyle to finish things off.

However, there were no save opportunities available in any of the first four games. Well, there would have been for the Yankees in Game 4, but Lyle had been in the game since the fourth, and he earned the win in for his six innings of work rather than a save.

It all came down to a deciding Game 5, like it was always destined to. The Royals starter would be Paul Splittorff, who won Game 1 easily, while the Yankees countered with Ron Guidry.

The Game
Brett opened things up right away for Kansas City with a first-inning rbi triple, then scored on a groundout. It was 2-0 Kansas City, but it didn't matter. After last year's heartbreaker, it didn't matter what happened until the ninth.

The teams acted like they knew that, too, trading runs in the eighth, then kind of biding their time until the real fun began.

In the 8th, things started to move. Jackson broke out of his series-long slumber, driving in his first run of the LCS to make it 3-2. Steve Mingori got Graig Nettles and Chris Chambliss to end the threat, with Chambliss walking back to the dugout sporting a .059 average for the series. At least he wouldn't beat the Royals this year.

The Royals went down in the eighth, and so came the ninth. To underscore their lack of a closer, they sent 20-game winner Dennis Leonard to the mound. I suppose you could say you wanted the Royals wanted their best pitcher on the mound to decide the series. But Leonard was no closer, wasn't used to coming into situations like this. And after letting the first two runners get on base, he was gone.

Next in line was Larry Gura, one of the Royals' three closers. He gave up a single, and the game was tied 3-3. Gura out, Littel in. And it came full circle. The previous year, the Royals season ended with Littel on the mound. This year, he gave up another deciding fly ball. This one stayed in the park, but it was deep enough to bring home the go-ahead run. One out later, an error by the normally sure-handed Brett made it 5-3. It had happened again.

Granted, it wasn't exactly the same. As the home team, the Royals were allowed a final chance to hit. But it didn't matter. Lyle was used to pitching in the ninth with the game on the line, and he set them down easily. For the second straight year, the Royals had lost to the Yankees in the final inning of the final game.

After getting past the Royals, the Yankees met the Dodgers in the World Series. There, Jackson further awoke from his slumber, hitting three home runs in the clinching game to forever earn the nickname Mr. October.

In 1978, it all happened again. The Yankees beat the Royals in the ALCS and beat the Dodgers in the World Series. The Royals didn't beat the Yankees in the playoffs until 1980, and it took until 1985 until they won the championship.

What I'm doing.

The list so far:
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:
1976 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
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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