|Lost 3 LCS to NY|
Under manager Whitey Herzog the KC finished 102-60, a full 8 games ahead of the Texas Rangers to win the AL West crown for the 2nd straight season. After winning 2 of the first 3 games in the ALCS they needed just 1 more win to eliminate the Yankees and head to their first World Series in franchise history. With former Yank Larry Gura on the hill in game 4 the Royals came up 2 runs short. The decisive game 5 was played at Royals Stadium in front of 41,000 partisan fans, who were hoping for a reversal of fortune from last year's (1976) ALCS, when the Royals blew a lead in game 7 and lost the pennant to the Yankees on a walk off homer by Yankee first baseman Chris Chambliss.
Heading into the 8th inning starter Paul Splittorff was doing a fine job of protecting a 3-1 lead. After Willie Randolph led of the inning with a clean single up the middle Doug Bird was summoned from the pen to replace Splittorff. Bird got Yankee captain Thurman Munson to strike out swinging, but served up an opposite field single to former Royal Lou Piniella. With runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out Mr. October, Reggie Jackson stepped to the plate to pinch hit for DH Cliff Johnson. Jackson did what Jackson always seemed to do, come through in the clutch. Reggie lined a single to center to score Randolph, which made it a 1 run game. Doug Bird was now done for the day and Steve Mingori took over and got Nettles to line out to right and Chambliss to ground into a force play. KC had 2 baserunners in the bottom of the inning, but failed to score off of tiring starter Mike Torrez or his replacement Sparky Lyle, the 1977 Cy Young Award Winner.
|Chambliss wins the 1976 pennant w/a walk off HR|
As the top of the 9th approached everyone in the house was on the edge of their seat. 3 more outs and the Royals win their first pennant. Dennis Leonard, who was mainly a starter, was called on to replace Mingori and start the 9th. Leonard served up a single to Paul Blair and walked Roy White, who was pinch hitting for Bucky Dent. Manager Whitey Herzog went to the pen and gave the ball to game 4 starter Larry Gura in order to get a lefty vs lefty matchup vs Mickey Rivers. The "Firery Little Genius", Billy Martin rolled the dice and left Rivers in. Martin's confidence in Rivers paid off as "Mick the Quick" singled to right, which scored Blair to tie the game at 3-3. At this point all of the momentum shifted to the Bronx Bombers. Mark Littell was now brought in from the pen to put out the fire and preserve the tie. Littell was not the right guy for this pressure cooker of a spot, considering how he served up a walk off pennant winning homer to Chris Chambliss only 365 days earlier. Littell got Randolph to line out to center, but in the process Roy White scored the go ahead run. Munson grounded out to short for the second out. With two out and a runner on third, it looked like the Royals just might get out of the inning without any further damage. This was not to be the case, as fate once again rested firmly on the side of the "Evil Empire". Lou Piniella hit a bullet to third that future HOF'er George Brett couldn't handle. Brett booted the ball and Rivers walked home to provide the Yanks with that all important insurance run.
After Jackson grounded out to 2nd to end the inning Sparky Lyle took the mound poised to defend the 2 run lead that his mates just provided him with. Royals catcher Darrell Porter led off the inning and mysteriously swung at the first pitch Lyle offered and weakly popped out to Fred "Chicken" Stanley at short. Stanley had just entered the game in place of Dent, who was pinch hit for by Roy White in the top of the inning. Frank White was the next batter. As quick as you can say "Da Yankees Win", White was in an 0-2 hole. Instead of wasting a pitch, Lyle went right after him and White responded with a clean single to center. Freddy Patek, the Royals shortstop, who was diminutive in size, but not heart came to the plate as the tying run. He too fell into an 0-2 hole. Once again Lyle didn't waste a pitch. Sparky's 0-2 offering was on the inside part of the plate. Patek turned on it and hit a one hop bullet to Nettles at thrird. New York's gold glove third baseman scooped up the ball, fired to Randolph covering second to force White. Randolph pivoted cleanly and threw a strike to Chambliss to nip Patek for the game ending double play. For the second year in a row the Yankees came back late in game 5 of the ALCS to crush KC's hopes and dreams. As the Yankees celebrated, the network cameras focused solely on a tearful Patek, who was distraught on the Royals bench. It would take 3 long years of waiting before the Royals paid the Bombers back. Until then, Royals fans began to sound like old Brooklyn Dodger fans, when they said, "Wait till next year".
|Patek couldn't control his emotions after grounding into the series ending DP|