Today’s Postseason Series From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is the 1985 American League Championship Series. The Toronto Blue Jays were in their ninth year of existence, but much like their Canadian brethren the Expos, they built their farm system up to become a legitimate power in the American League. They won 99 games and were making their first postseason appearance, featuring an outfield of George Ball, Lloyd Moseby, and Jesse Barfield (one of the best outfield arms of my lifetime), along with Cecil Fielder, Tony Fernandez, Willie Upshaw and pitchers Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key and Tom Henke.
They Royals were perennial bridesmaids. They lost to the Yankees in the ALCS in 1976, 1977, and 1978. In 1980 they lost to the Phillies in the World Series, and in 1984 they lost to the 104 win Tigers. They were arguably the worst offensive team ever to play in the World Series. They ranked 13th in the league in runs. They home grown players of Willie Wilson, Frank White, and George Brett were getting old, but they could pitch. Their five man rotation of Charlie Leibrandt, Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson, Bud Black, and Mark Gubicza were enough to get them to one of the best firemen of his day, Dan Quisenberry.
This would also be the first year that the League Championship Series would go to a best of seven format from the traditional best of five.
Game 1 was in Toronto and it went about as bad as any Royals fan could have feared. Charlie Leibrandt couldn’t get out of the third, getting pulled with the bases loaded and no one out. The Blue Jays coasted to a 1-0 series lead with a 6-1 victory. Bud Black fared better in Game 2, but it would not be enough. Quiz took the ball in the bottom of the eighth, but a one out single by Moseby and a throwing error by Jim Sundberg on a stolen base attempt set up George Bell for a sac fly to break a 3-3 tie. Pat Sheridan led off the ninth with a homerun to tie it, and Frank White drove in Willie Wilson to take the lead in the tenth, but Quisenberry couldn’t get the lefties as Fernandez, Moseby, and Al Oliver reached in the bottom of the 10th for a 6-5 win and a 2-0 series lead.
Game 3 featured one of the greatest individual performances of my lifetime. As the story goes, before the game George Brett walked into the clubhouse and told the team he was going to carry them that night. In the bottom of the first after Wilson was caught stealing Brett hit a solo homerun. In the third Brett cut down the tying run at home on a back handed stop and leaping throw. In the fourth Brett led off with a double, went to third on a flyball, and scored on White’s sac fly (pretty standard for that offense that year).
But the Blue Jays came roaring back. Jesse Barfield hit a two run homer off of Sabrehagen in the top of the fifth. Four hitters later Rance Mulliniks launched a three run shot and suddenly it was 5-2. After Sundberg homered to make it 5-3, Brett took over. With Willie Wilson on first to lead off the bottom of the sixth, Brett hit his second homer of the game. He came to bat again in the eighth and singled to lead off the inning. After a bunt (ugh), ground out, and intentional walk, Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni singled to drive in Brett. The Royals held on for a 6-5 win. Brett’s line for the game: 4-4, two homeruns, one double, four runs scored, three RBI.
Game 4 was a duel between Dave Stieb and Charlie Leibrandt. Steib went 6.2 innings, surrendering a bases loaded walk in the sixth. Leibrandt pitched into the ninth, hanging onto a shutout. Damasio Garcia led off with a single then Moseby chased Leibrandt with a game tying double. Dick Howser went to Quisenberry, and after a single by George Bell Al Oliver gave the Blue Jays the lead with a 2-run double. The Royals got two on in the bottom of the ninth, but Henke finished it off, giving the Jays a 3-1 lead. Game 5 was all Danny Jackson. He scattered 8 hits and struck out 6 in a complete game shutout, and sending the series back to Toronto.
Game 6 things started to turn on a strategic move. Both teams scored in the first and third. In the fifth with one out Brett hit his third homerun of the series. Then in the sixth back to back doubles by Buddy Biancalana and Lonnie Smith gave the Royals a 5-2 lead. Then, in a spot where Howser would usually go with his fireman, he instead went with lefty Bud Black. Black went 3.1 innings and Quisenberry got Garth Iorg for the final out to even the series.
Game 7 Howser went aggressive early. Entering the bottom of the fourth and clinging to a 2-0 lead, Howser replaced staff ace Bret Saberhagen with lefty Charlie Leibrandt. To counter, Bobby Cox replaced lefties Rance Muliniks and Al Oliver with right handed bats. Leibrandt went 5.1 innings of relief and the Royals opened things up in the sixth. With the bases loaded and two out Jim Sundberg ripped a 1-0 pitch from Stieb into right for a bases clearing triple, chasing the Blue Jays ace. Frank White followed with a single and the game was effectively over. Toronto got a couple of runners on in the ninth, but when Quisenberry got Moseby to ground out to White, the Royals were American League Champions.
This turned out to be a swan song for the Royals, who would go on to finally win the World Series, but would not sniff the postseason for the next 29 years. The Blue Jays would put together a competitive run, averaging 91 wins from 1983 through 1993 and winning the 1992 and 1993 World Series.