DAVE STIEB, THE BLUE JAYS & THE WILD ‘80s – Part 3
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
Royals Teach Jays What They Needed To Know
There was one major difference in the 1985 League Championship Series when compared to previous ones. Beginning in 1985, these would now be best-of-seven affairs. They had been best-of-five before that. This would come to matter as the American League series went on. First though, it was time for Dave Stieb to take to the mound for Game 1 against the Kansas City Royals.
When you think about the period between 1976 and 1984, the Royals were perennial contenders for the American League West Division crown. They had played in the 1980 World Series but lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. They played in five league championship series over that time and in the strike year of 1981, they played in a divisional series. This group of players were battle-tested.
After getting Lonnie Smith to fly out to Bell in left-centre and Willie Wilson on a ground ball comebacker, Stieb faced George Brett. With the count at one ball and two strikes, Brett hit a ball deep to centre. Moseby couldn’t run it down and Brett ended up standing on second with a double. But then Stieb got Jorge Orta to pop up to Iorg at third to end any threat.
That brought Royals’ lefty Charlie Leibrandt out to face the Blue Jays’ hitters. Before the series, there was some concern amongst members of the media that the Jays would have trouble against left-handed pitchers. Both Garcia and Moseby were retired on ground balls to the shortstop Buddy Biancalana. But then George Bell doubled off Leibrandt. He was stranded though after Cliff Johnson hit a fly ball that the rightfielder, Pat Sheridan, tracked down.
In the Royals’ second, Stieb started to look like the ‘ace’ version of himself that Jays’ fans had come to expect. On six pitches, he got Sheridan to ground out to Garcia at second, he got Frank White to strike out on three throws, and he induced Steve Balboni to pop up feebly to Upshaw in foul territory down the first base line.
Jesse Barfield came up in the top of the second and he lashed Leibrandt’s second pitch into centre field for a single. Upshaw followed Barfield and was hit by Leibrandt’s second offering to put Blue Jays on first and second for Garth Iorg. Iorg hit a ball into shallow left that Lonnie Smith was able to gun toward third in order to force Barfield out there.
But Ernie Whitt came to the plate and hit a ball through the right side of the infield that scored Upshaw and sent Iorg to third. Tony Fernandez hit one through the left side that got Iorg home. Whitt was only able to move up to second on the play. After Garcia singled to load the bases, Leibrandt got Moseby to pop up to Brett in foul territory. He then retired Bell 6-3 to get out of the inning. But it was 2-0 and the Jays looked to be getting to the Royals’ lefty.
In the top of the third, it was Stieb who was giving the Royals’ hitters fits. First, he got Jim Sundberg to ground out to Iorg at third. Then he got Biancalana on strikes. Finally, he got Smith to pop up to Upshaw. After getting the Royals on just six pitches in the second, he used only eleven in the third.
If the Jays had staggered Leibrandt in the second inning, the third saw them deliver the knockout blow. Cliff Johnson started things off by hammering a 1-1 pitch to the right-centre field wall for a double. Then Barfield worked an eight-pitch walk. Willie Upshaw then laced a ball to centre that dropped in front of Willie Wilson to load the bases.
That was enough for Royals’ manager Dick Howser. He went out to remove Leibrandt and replace him with Steve Farr. Garth Iorg was the scheduled hitter, but with the pitching change, Jays’ manager Bobby Cox sent Rance Mulliniks in his place. Mulliniks immediately singled to score Johnson and keep the bases loaded for Ernie Whitt.
Whitt earned a five-pitch walk off of Farr and that plated Barfield to make the score 4-0. After Fernandez lined out to Sheridan in right, Upshaw was able to score. That was it for the Toronto scoring but that 5-0 cushion was quite a welcome sight for Dave Stieb.
The one thing about big innings like that Jays’ third is that the team’s pitcher has to sit for a longer period of time than they may be used to. Baseball people will always tell you to watch the pitcher after an inning like the one the Blue Jays had. Wilson helped Stieb out right away though by swinging at his first pitch. It rolled to Upshaw, who picked it up and stepped on first to get the out.
Next up was Brett. He had the only base hit in the game for Kansas City to this point and he managed another hit, this time a single, off of Stieb. Orta went down swinging for the second Royals’ out, but then Sheridan came up and worked the Jays’ tough right-hander for a base on balls. Stieb was able to get Frank White to hit a ground ball to Mulliniks who stepped on third for the force out. No damage was done.
Steve Farr was still on the mound for Kansas City in the Jays’ fourth. The first Jays’ batter in the inning was George Bell. He pasted a ground ball up the middle for a single, and the Toronto lead-off hitter was aboard. Cliff Johnson hit a 2-0 pitch to the left side, deep into the hole between third and short. Biancalana was able to make the play and get the out at first, but Bell, impulsively rounded second on the play and headed for third on Biancalana’s throw.
Balboni was playing first and was not known for his defense. He threw the ball back to third to try to get Bell. But his throw was wild and Bell was able to not only take third but he managed to score on the error. It was now 6-0 for the Jays. Pandemonium reigned supreme at the old Ex. Farr finished the inning then he was gone as well. Mark Gubicza would pitch next for the Royals.
Stieb was rolling by this point. He got the Royals in order in the fifth on eleven pitches. He did the same thing in the sixth and used the same number of throws. The last out of that sixth inning was Brett. Stieb got him looking at a 2-2 pitch.
While Stieb was looking other-worldly for Toronto, Gubicza was looking good for Kansas City as well. He faced ten Jays hitters over three innings and allowed just a seventh inning walk to Jesse Barfield. Meanwhile, Stieb, in the seventh, used only nine pitches to get the Royals 1-2-3. He had thrown just 85 times through those seven innings.
In the Royals’ eighth, they looked to be hitting the ball harder off of Stieb. Balboni led off the inning working him for eight pitches and hit a fly ball to deep centre. Moseby was able to get it though for the first out. Sundberg hit a ball to medium left-centre that Moseby ran down. Then Dane Iorg (brother of Garth) hammered a ball that split Bell and Moseby and rolled to the wall. Iorg ended up on second. Then Lonnie Smith swung on Stieb’s first offering and lofted a fly ball to Moseby for the final out of the inning.
Stieb was out of the game after the eighth. He had thrown 101 pitches and Cox wanted to get Tom Henke loose. The situation was certainly less dire than Henke was used to and it seemed to take the big closer a couple of pitches to get acclimated to postseason ball. He immediately gave up singles to Wilson and Brett to put runners on the corners for Kansas City.
Henke then got Orta to foul out to Barfield down the right field line. That brought Sheridan up. He hit a ground ball to first that Upshaw fielded. He tried for the 3-6-3 double play but they were only able to get Brett at second. Wilson was able to score to break the shutout. He got Frank White to fly out to deep centre to end the game. The Jays had won their first-ever postseason game by a score of 6-1 on eleven hits and masterful pitching against an elite opponent.
Stieb wasn’t thrilled about coming out after eight innings but, he knew that he would be pitching in Game Four and, if necessary, a Game Seven. “I can’t say I ever want to come out of a game when I’m pitching a shutout, but, Bobby’s the boss and I’ll abide by his wishes. I thought I had a good performance tonight but I never weigh one start against another. The arm feels fine and whenever Bobby wants me to pitch again, I’ll be ready.”
Stieb was quite happy with the run support he got in the opening game. “I was expecting a low-scoring game. It felt just great to see the offense that we mustered tonight. It certainly helps a pitcher when his team stakes him to a lot of runs early.”
He used 17 pitches to get out of the first inning. It took him a little while to get going. “I wasn’t as pumped up at the start of the game as I thought I would be. But as it went on, the adrenaline started to flow.
For his part, the manager, Cox, explained it this way. “He had thrown 101 pitches. I thought that he’d had enough. If we’re going to pitch him every four days, which is our plan at the moment, he had to come out after eight.” Cox wasn’t overplaying the significance of this win. “In a five-game series, this certainly would have been a big win. But now that we’ve gone to seven games, it takes some of the importance out of it.”
Over in the Royals’ clubhouse, Dick Howser wasn’t about to give the Blue Jays much credit. “They are a good hitting club but they got some dink hits tonight.” The fact that Leibrandt was out of the game as early as he was meant that Howser might consider using him in Game 4 as opposed to his plan of going with a four-man rotation in the series.
Royals’ Hall-of-Fame third baseman Brett talked about the result. “If we lose again tomorrow night, then we’ve got a tough task ahead of us.” He talked about the difference between a best-of-five series versus a best-of-seven. “You have a little better feeling about losing the first game of a best-of-seven series.”
“And I detected, as we came back into the clubhouse tonight, that our players were not down. In fact, we’re already fired up for tomorrow.” Brett talked about Stieb’s night as well. “I’ve been saying all along that his record (14-13) is very misleading. That man can pitch! What more can you say when a guy strikes out eight and gives up three hits in a playoff game such as this.”
“I was swinging the bat really, really good coming in here.” Brett had gone 9-for-20 in the Royals’ last six games of the season. “(Stieb) challenged me with a fastball when I hit the double. Then I hit a pitch out of the strike zone. Next time up, he struck me out on three pitches.”
The series’ second game saw the Royals throwing Bud Black at the Jays while Jimmy Key would go for Toronto. Turnabout was fair play in this one as Kansas City chased Key with one out in the fourth. By that point, it was 3-0 with the visitors in the lead. Dennis Lamp had to come in and finish the inning for the Blue Jays.
The Bluebirds managed to get on the board in the bottom of the fourth. Meanwhile Lamp was holding the Royals off, retiring the first eight batters he faced. The Jays sent six men up to the plate in the sixth and they got two runs back to tie the game 3-3. Lamp was magic getting the Royals in order in the seventh.
But Bud Black was firing peas too and, though he allowed a lead-off single to Garth Iorg, he managed to get a double play ball and kept the game even through seven. Gary Lavelle came on in the eighth and walked George Brett. That prompted Cox to go to his “Terminator”, Tom Henke. Henke got out of the inning without any further damage being done.
As the bottom of the eighth began, Bud Black was gone for the Royals and Dan Quisenberry was on the hill. ‘The Quiz’ was a right-handed submarine-type pitcher who was murderous on right-handed hitters. He got Garcia to ground out to start the Jays’ eighth. But then, Lloyd Moseby hit a ball through the left side for a single.
With George Bell up next, Moseby stole second. The catcher Sundberg’s throw was off target and Moseby scampered over to third with just one out. Bell then hit a fly ball which scored his teammate from third. Just like that, the Jays were ahead and Henke stood to be the winner if he could just retire the 7-8-9 hitters in the Royals’ order in the top of the ninth.
Not so fast though. Pat Sheridan came up to lead off that ninth for Kansas City. He hammered a Henke pitch (after the game, Henke would describe it as a ‘horse-manure’ delivery) over the wall to tie the game. They got nothing more in the inning but consternation had replaced joy among the Exhibition Stadium faithful.
Quisenberry retired the Jays in the ninth to give his team a chance in the top of the tenth. They rewarded their reliever. Willie Wilson started the inning off with a single off Henke. But then George Brett went down on strikes. Hal McRae was next up for the Royals. Wilson stole second, but McRae struck out as well.
Frank White was the next batter and he hit a ball up the middle for a single. That scored Wilson and the Royals had given their sidearmer a lead. If Quisenberry could keep the Jays off the board in their half of the tenth, they would have achieved their goal coming into the series -- a split on the road.
The first batter up for the Bluebirds in the bottom of the tenth was Tony Fernandez. He hit a bouncy roller up the middle. Royals’ shortstop Onix Concepcion made a nice pick-up on the ball but couldn’t get it out of his glove. Fernandez had an infield single. Damo Garcia grounded out to Brett but that was enough to move Fernandez into scoring position.
A few seconds later, Lloyd Moseby singled and the game was tied. George Bell came up. Moseby took his lead off of first. Quisenberry turned and fired the ball to first to try to pick off the Toronto runner. It was there in plenty of time but Steve Balboni, the first baseman, played it like a bag of doorknobs and it got away from him. Moseby rambled on to second base.
Bell had the opportunity to win the game now. But all he could do was loft an easy fly ball to centre field for Wilson. That brought Al Oliver to the plate. The designated hitter did as he was designated to do. He swung at a ball outside of the strike zone, effectively lunging at the ball. He managed to place it on a line through the left side of the infield and it was enough to score Moseby with the game-winning run. Once again, the Exhibition Stadium crowd was delirious.
After the game, Oliver would tell reporters of the magnitude of that hit for him. He told them that it might have been the biggest hit of his career since the three-run home run in 1971 that beat the San Francisco Giants and propelled his Pittsburgh Pirates into the World Series that year against the Baltimore Orioles.
With Moseby at second and first base open, the Royals could have walked the aging former star to pitch to Barfield, who was on deck. The Royals pitched to him “probably because they know that I haven’t been playing that much.” Oliver talked about his game-winning hit. “He (Quisenberry) is a real tough, smart pitcher.”
“You wouldn’t believe how that ball moves around the plate. I overswung twice. I’d rather be a tad late meeting the ball than up front. He threw me a high pitch on the outside and I made contact. It was hit just hard enough to get through the infield.”
Tom Henke got credit for the victory but he wasn’t thrilled with his performance. “Sheridan hit a horse-manure pitch and that’s my fault. All I try to do when I’m called upon is give 100 percent. There’s nothing more you can do.”
Bobby Cox could not stop talking about the work that Dennis Lamp did in this game. “I thought Dennis Lamp was today’s hero. He came in there in a tough situation and got Smith and Wilson...two tough outs. But he’s been doing that all year.”
George Brett was not a happy guy after the game and who could blame him. The Royals’ clubhouse was funereal after the extra-innings loss. Brett could be found sitting on the floor against a post in a long-sleeved baseball undershirt and a pair of knee length shorts. Windsor Star reporter Alan Halberstadt was one of a few reporters in the floor-scrum around the star third baseman.
Halberstadt wrote “He was speaking in inaudible tones to a reporter squatting in front of him. Soon there was a semi-circle of squatting reporters formed around Brett. His voice betrayed disbelief. ‘When you have a game won three or four times, it’s tough. It’s easier to lose 6-1.’” Brett talked to the gaggle of reporters of the unique atmosphere of these games in Toronto.
“It’s been really interesting here. It’s not like a baseball playoff. It’s more like an international Olympic event. People waving Canadian flags and things like that. Maybe when we get back to Kansas City, our fans will be waving U.S. flags.” Halberstadt conveyed what happened next. He wanted to ask about the Royals’ losing streak in recent postseason games. Brett did not take that well.
“That’s when I stuck my foot in my mouth,” Halberstadt wrote, “and George almost bit it off. ‘George,’ I said, ‘you guys have now lost ten playoff games in a row, does...’ Brett cut me off. ‘(F***) you,’ he snarled. ‘What a stupid question. Does that mean we are never going to win another game?’ ‘No,’ I replied meekly, and quickly shuffled off toward manager Dick Howser’s office.”
As reporters, post-game interviews often can seem mundane, but we have all been in Halberstadt’s shoes at one time or another.
Thursday, October 10 was a travel day and as players, coaches, managers and media were arriving in “The Gateway To The West”, Kansas City fans and media were speculating on how the rest of the series was going to play out. And none of it seemed to be very positive. One media member overheard a conversation between locals at the Westin Crown Center on Thursday.
The first man said, “I’ve got four good tickets to Saturday night’s game (the scheduled Game Four). The second man responded, “No. I’ve already made plans and besides, Toronto probably will have won the series by then anyway.”
There was a lot of talk about the Royals’ ten-game postseason losing streak and Howser’s personal eleven-game playoff skid. “It’s very frustrating for me,” Howser admitted on the off-day. “I know that the players are feeling sorry for me losing all of these games. I wish they wouldn’t feel that way. They are the ones responsible for winning and losing.”
The weather around Kansas City had been kind of grey and gloomy at this point in October. Kind of similar to the mood of local baseball fans there. At least the Royals would be sending their young phenom, Bret Saberhagen, to the mound. His counterpart for the Blue Jays would be the veteran Doyle Alexander.
Alexander was the guy who pitched the A.L. East-clinching game on the previous Saturday. His 1985 record was 17-10. In 1984, he went 17-6 for the Jays. In the middle of the 1983 season, Alexander joined a Toronto squad that was still relegated to the bottom of the division heap. But looking at his record in September and October, 15-3 from 1983-85, he always seemed to perform well at crunch time. His successes coincided with the team’s rise in the standings as well.
Saberhagen was just 21 years old by the fall of 1985. But his record of 20-6 was second in the American League to only Ron Guidry. His ERA of 2.87 was third best in the league. He had faced the Blue Jays one time but that was back in April. Toronto won that game 10-2. The Royals’ season, fairly or unfairly, would be on his young shoulders in the third game of the ALCS.
Saberhagen came in on that Friday night and it took him eleven pitches to dispatch the Blue Jays in order in the top of the first. Then, his team would get on the board first when George Brett, the man who swore at the Windsor Star reporter after Game 2, hammered an Alexander pitch over the wall for a solo shot. The first inning ended with the Royals leading 1-0.
Neither team managed to get anything going in the second or the third. But in that third inning, Damo Garcia doubled to left and moved to third when Lonnie Smith mishandled the ball. The next batter was Moseby. He smoked a line drive grounder down the third base line. Brett corralled the ball. Garcia was running on contact and Brett gunned the ball home to Sundberg who put the tag on the Jays’ runner to prevent him from scoring.
The Jays got a double in the top of the fourth off the bat of Willie Upshaw but nothing else. In the bottom of that inning though, Brett led off with a double. Hal McRae hit a fly ball to right that Barfield had to go back to catch, but it was deep enough to allow Brett to tag up and advance to third. Frank White came up next and lofted another fly ball to right that scored the Royals’ third baseman. It was 2-0 for Kansas City after four.
The Blue Jays’ bats woke up in the fifth, however. Ernie Whitt swung at Saberhagen’s first pitch of the inning and he hit it to right. It landed on grass. The Jays had a runner on. Jesse Barfield came up next and he got behind in the count. He had a ball and two strikes on him when he hammered the next Saberhagen offering over the wall in right field and just like that, the game was tied.
After Tony Fernandez flied out to left field, Garcia doubled to right. Lloyd Moseby, on a full count, then hit a hard comebacker right at Saberhagen. It hit him in the leg and caromed away far enough that Garcia was able to score. The next hitter was the bespectacled Rance Mulliniks. He got behind 1-and-2 and he did the same as Barfield did in powering a ball over the right field fence.
Saberhagen had faced six Blue Jays’ hitters in the fifth and he had retired just one. He had thrown 25 pitches in the inning and had been able to get ahead of the Jays hitters, but he couldn’t finish them off and after the Mulliniks bomb, the Royals’ starter was finished. Bud Black came in to pitch for Kansas City.
Black got Upshaw to ground out to second. But then, Cliff Johnson singled and George Bell did the same to move Johnson up ninety feet. After Black walked Whitt on five pitches, Steve Farr came in to try to stop the bleeding. He induced Barfield ground out to second to end the carnage. It was very suddenly 5-2 for the visitors in the middle of the fifth.
The Royals were able to get a run back in the bottom of the inning on a solo home run by catcher Jim Sundberg. In the Jays’ half of the sixth, Fernandez led off with a single. Farr then got Garcia to hit a ground ball to shortstop Onix Concepcion. He tossed over to White at second for the force out. Moseby was up next and he hit a ball right back to Farr who wheeled around and fired a strike to Concepcion who got the out at second and he threw to first to get the Jays’ centre fielder.
The bottom of the sixth proved to be the undoing of Doyle Alexander. The first Royals’ batter was Willie Wilson. The speedy centre fielder hit a 1-1 pitch up the middle for a single. That brought George Brett to the plate. Brett hammered a 1-1 Alexander delivery over the wall in left-centre and the game was tied in quick fashion.
The way Brett was hitting in this series and given the way he spoke to the Windsor Star reporter Halberstadt after the second game of the series, Blue Jays fans could be forgiven if they anointed the Royals’ star with the same middle name as Boston fans gave the Yankees’ Bucky Dent back in 1978 after he ended the Red Sox’ season with a home run into the netting above the Green Monster in Game 163 for the two teams.
Sox fans immediately began calling him Bucky “F***ing” Dent.
Brett’s homer made the score 5-5 and it stayed that way through the seventh and into the eighth. In the bottom of the eighth inning, it was the aforementioned Brett who led things off. Jim Clancy had come in to pitch for Toronto in relief of Dennis Lamp who had replaced Alexander back in the bottom of the sixth.
Brett greeted Clancy by hitting a ground ball through the right side of the Blue Jays’ infield. Hal McRae, known for his slugging abilities, laid down a successful sacrifice bunt to move Brett into scoring position. Frank White, then hit the first pitch from Clancy on the ground to deep short. Fernandez was able to get White at first, but Brett also moved to third on the play.
Now with two out, Clancy intentionally walked Pat Sheridan. With runners on the corners, he was facing the hulking first baseman, Steve Balboni. Balboni was 0-for-3 in the game to this point and 0-for-11 in the series, having struck out his last time up against Lamp.
Clancy’s first pitch missed the strike zone for a ball. His second pitch was a ball as well. He had to come in on the third pitch. Balboni knew it and he made contact with the ball, floating it into ‘no-man’s land’ in shallow centre field between three Blue Jays and scoring Brett. It was 6-5 for the home side.
In the bottom of the ninth, Farr was still in the game for Kansas City. He got the Jays in order in the ninth on eight pitches to nail down the victory. The series was now two games to one for Toronto. The pitching matchup for the next contest would be the same as we saw in the first game of the series. Dave Stieb would be on the hill for Toronto against the lefty Charlie Leibrandt for the Royals.
Balboni spoke to a few media members after the game. “Luck wins games sometimes. He (Clancy) threw me a good pitch and I just got a piece of it. I hope this game turns things around for us.”
Brett had a monster game, having hit a pair of homers, a double and a single in four at-bats. He was much happier in the club house after this game than he was after the previous game. “This is probably my most important game in a long time. The two home runs were very satisfying. I do remember a game in 1977 when I hit three home runs off Catfish (Hunter of the New York Yankees).”
“I just want to go out and do what George Brett is capable of doing. Winning ball games is the most important thing to me.”
Howser talked about the player he got to watch on a daily basis. “I’m relying a lot on George. To put numbers up like him, you have to have an outstanding year. He’s having a Hall of Fame year in my opinion. George can do anything but manage. And a lot of people make fun of his defensive play. Well, he made a play in the third inning that few third basemen could make.”
Howser was referring, of course, to the hard grounder hit by Moseby that should have been an extra base hit, but Brett got the ball cleanly and threw a bulls-eye home to get Garcia. Surely, a game saver. With the day Brett had, on both sides of the field, you have to wonder if the question from any Windsor Star reporters may have provided some motivation to the great Royals’ star.
The Blue Jays did manage to pound out twelve hits in the game and had their chance to win. Jesse Barfield had a great day in the field and had a base hit as well. He took a poke at one of the Royals’ manager’s comments from earlier in the series. “Howser can’t say we hit bloopers tonight. We hit the ball hard all night.”
Oh well. On to the fourth game. Bring on Dave Stieb and Charlie Leibrandt.
Both starters were great in this game. Through the first five innings, all each team could muster was a single base hit. In the top of the sixth, Leibrandt was again on his game. Tony Fernandez led the inning off by grounding out to second. Damaso Garcia followed him with a double to left field. But then, Lloyd Moseby hit a screaming liner right to Buddy Biancalana at shortstop who caught the ball and then beat Garcia back to the bag at second for the double play.
In the bottom of the inning, Stieb allowed Lonnie Smith to reach on a walk. Willie Wilson then singled to centre moving Smith to third. Jays’ manager Bobby Cox elected to have Stieb intentionally walk George Brett to load the bases rather than allow him to hit. But then, Hal McRae worked the count full and, with Stieb having nowhere to put him, took ball four and walked in the go-ahead run.
Pat Sheridan popped up and Frank White hit into a 6-4-3 double play, but the damage was done. And the way Leibrandt was throwing, Royals’ fans could be excused if they allowed themselves to feel confident of the series being tied after this one.
In the top of the seventh, Jesse Barfield got a two-out single off of Leibrandt but then was thrown out trying to steal and that inning was over. The Royals’ first two hitters, Steve Balboni and Jim Sundberg were retired on six Dave Stieb pitches in the bottom of the seventh. But then Biancalana and Lonnie Smith walked. Stieb’s game was over.
Tom Henke entered the game and got Willie Wilson to fly out to Moseby in centre field. Neither team could do anything in the eighth. But in the ninth, the drama began.
It all began when Leibrandt, who had been so good the entire game, walked Damaso Garcia on four pitches. Lloyd Moseby then came up and doubled to right which brought Garcia home with the tying run. Howser then pulled Leibrandt and brought in Dan Quisenberry to face George Bell. Bell promptly singled to move Moseby to third.
Al Oliver came in to pinch hit for the designated hitter Cliff Johnson and he doubled to right. Moseby and Bell both came home to score and, just like that, Toronto had a 3-1 lead and there was still nobody out. But Quisenberry righted himself and got the next three Blue Jays out to finally end the inning. It would be up to Henke to take this one home.
The ‘Terminator’ would be facing the 6-7-8 positions in the Kansas City batting order. Frank White was the first man up and he hit a fly ball to Moseby in centre field for the first out. Steve Balboni was next and he earned a walk. The scheduled Royals’ hitter was the catcher Jim Sundberg, but Howser sent Jorge Orta in to pinch hit. Orta put a charge into a one-strike pitch and sent it deep to centre, but Moseby was able to run it down for out number two.
Biancalana was the next batter due up, but Howser sent Dane Iorg to the plate in his place. Iorg worked the count and got a base on balls. Balboni was on second. Onix Concepcion, who was sent in to pinch run for Iorg, was on first. Cox came out to talk to his big closer. The top of the Royals’ order was coming up to the plate.
Lynn Jones had replaced Lonnie Smith defensively in left field in the top of the eighth. It was his turn to hit. But Howser was working intensely to try to tie this game up. He sent Jamie Quirk up to hit for Jones. Quirk worked the count full before he finally popped up to Fernandez at shortstop to end the game.
It had to be heartbreaking for Charlie Leibrandt who had pitched so well, only to be saddled with the loss at the end of everything. Henke, who took over for Stieb in the seventh, was credited with the victory.
Al Oliver was feeling thankful for any opportunity to play at this late point in his career. “The last couple of times I’ve faced ‘the Quiz’, I’ve been fortunate to find the holes,” Oliver told the media after the game. “He’s got one of the funniest looking pitches I’ve ever seen. It rises. He threw me a change-up and I was lucky enough to get it over the infield.”
The Jays should have won the third game of the series but lost it. The Royals should have been able to tie the series in Game 4 but lost it. And, as it stood, Toronto was a win away from going to their first World Series. But, as everyone knows, the hardest game to win in a best-of-seven series is the one that allows a team to move on. That would prove to be way too true for the team from Canada.
The champagne was at the ready, six cases of it, in the event that the Blue Jays won the fifth game of their American League Championship Series in Kansas City on Sunday, October 13. Sadly, for the Jays and their fans, it would not be opened at the conclusion of this contest. What was revived, though, was hope in the Royals’ clubhouse.
Jimmy Key was on the mound for the visitors. 23-year-old Danny Jackson was getting his first start of the series for the Royals. Jackson was good enough as he got three outs around a George Bell double in the first inning. Key laboured in the first. He gave up a Lonnie Smith double to lead things off. Smith then stole third to get the Royals and the home crowd going.
But Key got Willie Wilson swinging. George Brett hit a ground ball to shortstop Tony Fernandez. Fernandez got the out at first but he couldn’t prevent Smith from coming home with the game’s first run. Hal McRae grounded out to Garth Iorg at third to end the inning. After Jackson struck out the Blue Jays in order in the second, the Royals were back up again with their hitting pants on.
Well, Frank White got aboard on a perfect bunt, and then with the count full, Steve Balboni singled and that moved White over to third. The big first baseman was able to move up to second on the throw to third. Right fielder Darryl Motley was up next and he drilled a fly ball to right field. Jesse Barfield was able to track it down, but White scored and Balboni tagged up and advanced to third.
But Key then got catcher Sundberg swinging and he induced Biancalana to hit a come-backer. A simple throw to Upshaw at first ended the inning. The bad news was that it was now 2-0 for the Royals. The good news was that the Jays had seven more innings in which to climb back from this deficit.
In the top of the third, Tony Fernandez managed to get a single on a grounder that snuck through the infield, but that was all. Key was back on his game in the third using just eight pitches to get the home team in order.
Jackson pitched himself into and out of trouble in the middle innings. In the fourth, Bell led off with a single. Cliff Johnson followed him with a single of his own to left field. As Bell tried to head from first to third, Smith retrieved the ball in left and threw a strike to Brett at third who put the tag on the sliding Bell. Threat averted.
The Blue Jays were sure that Bell was safe though. Bell argued the play on the field. Bobby Cox came out and argued as well. “The replay I saw, he was safe,” Cox said when it was all said and done. “That play might have meant the ball game. Bell is an aggressive runner. It took a good, accurate throw to get him.”
In the fifth, Garth Iorg led off with a single. Ernie Whitt then doubled to advance Iorg to third. But neither Fernandez, Garcia or Moseby could bring either man home. In the sixth, after retiring Bell and Johnson to start the inning, Jackson gave up consecutive singles to Barfield and Upshaw and then he walked Iorg. But Ernie Whitt’s ground ball to White at second ended the Blue Jays’ uprising.
Key was doing everything he could to keep the Royals from putting up more runs. In the bottom of the sixth though, after he walked Brett and allowed a one-out single to White, Cox lifted Key for Jim Acker. Acker got the Royals out without any real damage being done. After that, there was nothing offensively for either team. Jackson had gone all the way for Kansas City in a 2-0 complete game victory. There was still life in the old Royals.
Dick Howser could not have been happier with the work of his young pitcher. “He pitched just like Leibrandt did last night, only better. When we score only two runs, we need shutout pitching to win. I thought the seventh, eighth and ninth were his best innings,” Howser told the press.
Bobby Cox was willing to pay compliments to Jackson as well. “We had several opportunities to score. He had a real good fastball and slider. I thought he threw real well, particularly early in the game.” Jackson threw only 24 pitches to Blue Jays’ hitters through the final three innings. He had thrown 89 through the first six.
Jackson was happy with his performance and he said so after the game. “This was a big game for us. Fortunately, I pitched well,” Jackson told reporters. “I never worry about run support. I’m just out there trying to keep our team in the game.”
The teams headed north to Toronto for a sixth game. Nobody better open that bubbly up quite yet. The pitching matchup would be Mark Gubicza for Kansas City against Doyle Alexander for Toronto.
There was some concern among Blue Jays fans after the fifth game of the series having to do with Toronto’s inability to generate enough offense. One article pointed to the fact that the Blue Jays only scored runs in two of the 27 innings in Kansas City. There were others that discussed the team’s issues with hitting with runners in scoring position. They would have to get back to being the 99-win team they were in the regular season in order to close this one out.
There was also talk from at least one player that the umpires might have something against the Blue Jays. George Bell, who had refused to speak to the media during the regular season, had begun to talk in the postseason. He had thoughts on the umpiring in the first five games of this series. Some reporters asked Bell if he thought that Major League Baseball didn’t want a Canadian team in the World Series.
“I don’t say that, but there’s definitely something going on. The umpires don’t give anything to Toronto. You guys seen the replays. There’s no way you can make calls like that.” But Bell’s teammates weren’t going to get caught up in any discussion of the umpires. Lloyd Moseby was one those players who actually took time to defend the umpires.
“We’re all human,” Moseby started. “We all make mistakes. I dropped a fly ball against New York that cost us a game. There was no umpire quoted in the paper saying ‘Did you see what he did?’ They could tell some stories on me. I’ve swung at some pitches two feet outside and if the umpire was quoted the next day saying, ‘You should have seen that pitch Moseby swung at’, man, that would be some kind of upsetting to me.”
The Royals scored in the first inning of Game Six when McRae drove a one-out single to left to score Willie Wilson. The Blue Jays answered when Rance Mulliniks hit into a run scoring double play in the bottom of the first. In the third, a one-out McRae double brought Wilson home again. But, the Jays put another run on the board in the bottom of the inning when Moseby grounded out to allow Fernandez to score.
In the top of the fifth, George Brett stuck his elbow into the ribs of Jays’ fans with a solo homer over the right field wall to restore the Royals’ one-run lead. In the sixth, Jim Sundberg led off with a walk against Alexander. Frank White bunted Sundberg over with a sacrifice. Buddy Biancalana then hammered an Alexander pitch to the wall in right-centre field that scored his catcher. That wallop ended Alexander’s day.
In came Dennis Lamp to face the top of the order. Lonnie Smith greeted the Jays’ reliever by taking the count full and then doubling to right scoring Biancalana. It was now 5-2 and the Royals were rolling.
In the bottom of the sixth, after a Moseby single and an Upshaw base on balls, Howser brought Bud Black in to relieve Mark Gubicza. He got behind Cliff Johnson and subsequently gave up a single to left that plated Moseby. Lamp would go the rest of the way without allowing another Kansas City run. Black made it into the ninth.
The first batter he faced was Jesse Barfield. The Exhibition Stadium crowd was trying to exhort a final stand from their team. But Barfield went down swinging. Tony Fernandez got aboard on an infield single. Damo Garcia’s ground ball to the right side resulted in Fernandez being forced out at second. Moseby singled to right though to keep the inning alive. Howser came out to get Black and bring in ‘The Quiz’.
Quisenberry did his job getting Garth Iorg to swing and miss on a 1-2 pitch to end the game. The Royals had won 5-3 and evened the series, sending it to a seventh and final game.
Buddy Biancalana had two hits in the game and drove in the eventual winning run. The lifetime .199 hitter received a lot of media attention after the game. With all the Canadian flags being waved in the seats, the series had taken on a Canada vs U.S.A. feel. An American reporter carried that sentiment into the Royals’ clubhouse after the game.
“How do you feel about getting the hit that saved your country?” he asked the 25-year-old Biancalana. The light-hitting shortstop giggled and responded, “I didn’t think of it that way, but I guess that’s what happened.”
Earlier in the season, Biancalana had been the subject of a joke by David Letterman. While Pete Rose was in his quest to pass Ty Cobb on the all-time hit list, Letterman told his audience that once Rose was done, he would start a Buddy Biancalana countdown to 4,000 hits. Biancalana was about 3,900 short of that number but he responded with a little snark.
“Even though I’m 4,000 hits behind Rose, I’m a lot closer than David Letterman is in his pursuit of Johnny Carson.” Uh, okay.
For the Blue Jays, clutch hitting was an issue once again. Had the players allowed the enormity of the situation to get the best of them? Bobby Cox wouldn’t hear anything of that. “There’s no tightness on the club that I can detect. Just a little frustration because we’re not getting the runs in when we have men in scoring position.”
He said there were a couple of reasons for the team’s inability to get timely hits. He cited “their (the Royals’) good pitching and the fact that we’re swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone.”
The tension had been ratcheted up as this series had progressed to this one-game final. George Brett had grown tired of it all. “Do you know what I would like Wednesday night? I’d like to win this game 10-1. Then we’d be having fun again. Except for the first game of the series, every game has been decided by one or two runs. They (the Jays) are probably just as tired out as us.”
“They had a tough series against the Yankees before we came in here. When you concentrate so long on a series of games such as these, you get mental fatigue. It’s one thing to be physically worn out but it’s another thing to be mentally drained,” Brett told the throng of reporters around his locker in the visitors’ club house.
When asked about facing Dave Stieb in the final game, he spoke respectfully. “Dave Stieb is a great pitcher. We all have a lot of respect for him. But if we play like we’ve been playing our last three or four games, we’ll be alright.”
Brett had shown some impatience with questions in the past and when someone asked him if his homer off Alexander in the fifth inning might have had a little boost from the wind off the lake, he reacted. “If it was windblown, it was windblown. I know I hit it good. Anyway, who gives a sh**?”
Game Seven in Toronto! Bret Saberhagen against Dave Stieb! Ace against ace! A country sits on pins and needles as it awaits the final element of this October showdown!
Come game time, the more than 32,000 in the Exhibition Stadium seats and the millions watching at home were eagerly desiring a victory for their team. The first batter that Stieb faced was Lonnie Smith. He singled to right field. The next hitter, Willie Wilson, got behind no balls and two strikes. He lashed a ground ball right to Damaso Garcia. Garcia tossed over to Fernandez who tapped the bag with his toe and rifled the ball to Upshaw at first for the double play.
Next up was George Brett. Brett worked the count against Stieb. Eventually it was full. But Stieb got Brett to swing and miss. The inning was over.
One of the things a team wants to do in the first inning is make the opposing man on the mound throw a lot of pitches. That serves two purposes. First, it allows the team at bat to see what the pitcher has in terms of his repertoire and what kind of ‘stuff’ he has on that day. The other thing it does is it forces him to do a lot of work early and possibly wear him out for later.
Damaso Garcia led off for the Blue Jays. He faced seven Saberhagen pitches before grounding out to second. Lloyd Moseby then swung and missed on strike three. But then, Rance Mulliniks earned a four-pitch walk against Saberhagen. Lloyd Moseby hit a hard liner up the middle that hit Saberhagen on the hand. It was scored a single. Saberhagen then hit Al Oliver with a pitch to load the bases. But George Bell hit a fly ball that Pat Sheridan put away to end any threat.
In their half of the second, the Royals sent Hal McRae to lead off the inning. He flied out to Bell in left. Sheridan then hit a hard bunt past Stieb on the right side of the infield for a base hit. It was the kind of play that works on artificial turf but most likely would not work on grass. Steve Balboni came up and swung at the first Stieb offering. He grounded out to Mulliniks at third, but it moved Sheridan over to second.
The next Royals’ batter was the catcher Jim Sundberg, who was 2-for-20 in the series, coming into this game. He singled to right, scoring Sheridan and giving his team an early lead. Sundberg had long been an excellent defensive catcher but was never expected to contribute much offensively.
In the bottom of the second, Ernie Whitt led off for the Jays. He went up to the plate swinging and hit lashed a ball into right field for a single. Unfortunately, the next three hitters went down in order on 13 Saberhagen pitches. Neither team was able to get anything going in the third. But in the fourth, the Royals began to rumble.
Stieb got Brett to ground out to Upshaw who stepped on the bag to get the pesky Royals’ third baseman. Hal McRae was next up and he went down swinging. But then it was Pat Sheridan’s turn to bust his slump. He had one hit in the series coming into this game but he blasted the first pitch he saw from Stieb over the wall for a solo homer and a 2-0 Kansas City lead going into the bottom of the fourth.
Bret Saberhagen had taken that line drive off his hand in the second inning and, as a result, he was out of the game. It was time for the left-hander, Charlie Leibrandt to come in for the Royals. The first man he faced was George Bell. Bell smashed a ball to left field that went for a double. But then Leibrandt got the Jays in order stranding Bell at second.
Stieb was able to pitch around a Biancalana single in the top of the fifth to keep the score 2-0. In the bottom of the inning, Damo Garcia hit a 3-2 pitch into right field for a lead-off single. Moseby was up next and he grounded out to the right side to move Garcia over to second. Cox put Garth Iorg in to bat for Mulliniks against the lefty Leibrandt. Iorg lofted a ball to deep left but Lonnie Smith was able to corral it for the second out of the inning.
That brought Willie Upshaw to the plate. He hit a 1-0 Leibrandt pitch into right that went for a double and brought Garcia home to get the Jays back into the game. The inning ended with the score 2-1 in favour of the Royals.
The Royals came up in the top of the fateful sixth inning. Stieb went to work against the number two hitter, Willie Wilson. Wilson lofted a fly ball to Moseby in centre that he caught for the first out. But then Stieb walked Brett on four pitches. And the unravelling had begun. Stieb got ahead of Hal McRae with a count of one ball and two strikes. McRae fouled the next pitch back.
But then Stieb came a little too far inside and hit McRae with the pitch. The next man up was Sheridan. Stieb got him to hit a ground ball to Fernandez at short. Fernandez made the heads-up play of throwing to Iorg at third for the force-out on Brett. There were now two outs with runners on first and second.
Steve Balboni was the batter now. He worked the count full and eventually walked to load the bases. It was almost an ‘unintentional’ intentional walk. The next hitter for the Royals was Sundberg. There was a force at every bag. All Stieb had to do was to induce the light-hitting catcher to hit a ground ball for a force out at the nearest base.
Stieb’s first pitch to Sundberg missed the zone. Ball one. He came in on his next pitch. Sundberg swung. He swung hard. The ball soared off his bat high in the air toward right field. Would it go out? Would it be a grand slam? It slammed into the top of the right field wall and caromed back toward the field. By the time Barfield got a hold of it, three runs had scored and Sundberg was standing on third with a bases-clearing triple.
Oh, and he had taken out a dagger and plunged it into the hearts of baseball fans across Canada.
That was it for Dave Stieb’s night. He was done. Jim Acker was in to pitch and the first Royals’ batter he faced was Frank White. White singled to left centre field and brought Sundberg home. But it was all academic by this point. It was 6-1 for Kansas City and it was all but over. Everyone was too devastated, by this point, to respond.
The Blue Jays couldn’t buy a hit in the sixth, the seventh or the eighth. In the ninth, they pushed a run home, but everyone knew the game – and the dream – was over. The Blue Jays had been silenced – not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Reporters asked Bobby Cox about his decision to allow Stieb to pitch to Sundberg when he may have had no more gas in the tank. Cox was unrelenting.
“No, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Stieb was still throwing good. They didn’t hit a hard ball off him all night. Sundberg hit a routine pop up but the wind was blowing out,” Cox intoned. When asked if the Royals’ postseason experience over the previous decade was a factor, Cox snapped back, “Experience had nothing to do with it. It was the wind!”
Over in the Royals’ club house, George Brett was asked by someone if he thought the Jays had choked. He bristled at the question. “No, I don’t think they choked. All of the games since the weekend were close. If anybody choked, it was us in Game Two. After we won the third game, I thought we had some momentum going for us.”
“But then, we lost the fourth game. Even when we were down 3-1, I thought the pressure was on them. It’s really hard to explain how or why we did it.”
Similarly, the Royals’ manager, Dick Howser agreed with his star third baseman. “I don’t think they blew anything. They pushed us to seven games but they were unable to put us away. One of the reasons for that is our pitching. It’s been good all year. Everybody in baseball respects our pitching. They talk about inexperience hurting Toronto in this series. I don’t think that was the case at all. They battled us right to the end. It’s been a struggle for us.”
The Royals went into the 1985 World Series facing their in-state counterparts from the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals. It went seven games as well with the Royals coming out on top. The series even followed the same script as the American League Championship Series did with the Cardinals taking a 3-1 lead in games and Kansas City winning the final three to take the title and the hardware.
There was controversy in the sixth game of the series in Kansas City. With the Cardinals leading 1-0 going into the bottom of the ninth, Cardinals’ manager Whitey Herzog brought Todd Worrell in to save the game and the series for the set-up man Ken Dayley. The first batter at the plate in the ninth was pinch-hitter Jorge Orta.
Orta hit a chopper down the first base line that was fielded by St. Louis first baseman Jack Clark. Clark had to move to his right to field the ball and Worrell ran over to first to cover the bag. Clark’s toss to his pitcher was a little wide and Worrell had to lunge a bit but, to all eyes at the park and to those watching on television, it appeared that Orta was out on the play.
First base umpire Don Denkinger had a different idea and he called Orta safe. Replays showed that Orta was clearly out. Today, the play could have been appealed and sent to video review. But, in 1985, there was no such process and the play stood, much to the chagrin, consternation and anger of many.
The next batter was Steve Balboni. Balboni skied a ball into foul territory on the first base side of the infield. Clark, a converted outfielder, was trying to find the ball but lost track of it as it bounded off the top step of the dugout. With another life, Balboni singled two pitches later. The fleet footed Onix Concepcion went in to pinch-run for the bulky Balboni.
That brought Jim Sundberg to the plate. He tried to bunt the runners over but fouled the Worrell pitches twice. With two strikes on him, he bunted again, this time straight at Worrell who turned and fired to third to get the force on Orta and keep runners at first and second. The next scheduled hitter for Kansas City was Buddy Biancalana. Howser sent Hal McRae to bat for his shortstop.
McRae took the first pitch for a ball. The next pitch was one that Cards’ catcher Darrell Porter couldn’t handle and it got away from him for a passed ball. Concepcion and Sundberg moved up ninety feet respectively. Worrell then intentionally walked McRae to keep the force at every base. John Wathan was sent out to run for McRae.
In those days, the designated hitter was only used in alternating World Series. In 1985, the pitchers were batting for themselves. The ninth spot in the order was due up. In this case, it would have been the Royals’ closer, Dan Quisenberry.
Howser sent Dane Iorg up to hit for his pitcher with one out and the bases loaded. Iorg slashed a single to right field. Concepcion and Sundberg both scored and the Royals had forced a seventh game against a shocked and apoplectic Cardinals team.
The beleaguered Cards had nothing left in the tank physically and emotionally in Game Seven and the Royals won it easily by a score of 11-0 to take their first World Series crown.
After the 1985 season, his fourth as the Blue Jays’ manager, Bobby Cox left the team to become the general manager of his former team, the Atlanta Braves. He remained in that position until the middle of the 1990 season, when he fired Russ Nixon and replaced him with...himself.
He stayed in that job from 1990 until the end of the 2010 season. His Braves teams won their division an astonishing 14 times in 15 years from 1991 to 2005. In 1995, Cox’ team won its only World Series when they defeated the Cleveland Indians in six games.
In 1986, Jimy Williams took over as manager of the Blue Jays. They finished fourth in the American League East that year. In 1987, Williams was leading the team to a much better season.
Going into the last week of that 1987 season, the Blue Jays had 96 wins and were poised to not only win over 100 but they were positioned to make a very nice postseason run. They had a 3 ½ game lead over the Detroit Tigers with seven games left to play. They didn’t win another game that season.
In Game 156 of that season, they lost a heartbreaker 3-2 in 13 innings to the Tigers. It was a Sunday. A win would have given the Jays an almost insurmountable 4 ½ game lead over Detroit in the AL East. The loss made their lead 2 ½. On the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, the Jays lost three straight to the Milwaukee Brewers. While that was happening, the Tigers lost two of three to the Baltimore Orioles. The lead was down to 1 ½ games with the Jays and Tigers playing a three-game set to finish the year out.
On the Friday night, Toronto took a 3-0 lead in the second inning. But the Tigers scored two in the bottom of the second and two more in the bottom of the third and won the game 4-3. The Jays still led by a half a game. If they won on Saturday, they would win the division. The next day, the two teams played a nailbiter. It went twelve innings. The Tigers won it when Alan Trammell singled off Mark Eichhorn with the bases loaded to walk it off. Detroit was now in first place by a half game and could clinch the division with a win on the final Sunday.
It was Jimmy Key for Toronto against Frank Tanana for Detroit. The game ended 1-0. The only run came in the bottom of the second inning. The Tigers’ Larry Herndon hammered a Key pitch deep over the left field wall for a massive homer and the Motor City Kitties were off to the post season.
That seven-game losing streak and the fall of that Blue Jays team had, to me, always been the worst choke in Toronto sports history, until the Maple Leafs lost their first round series in the spring of 2021 to the Montreal Canadiens. But that’s a story for another day.
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This has been Part 3 of a four-part series. Keep your eyes on the FiredUp Network to catch the rest of the series.
You can listen to Howie and his co-host Shawn Lavigne on The Sports Lunatics Show, a sports history podcast, right here on the FiredUp Network, or on 208 different platforms wherever you find your podcasts, including Alexa.