Friday, October 16, 2015

Kansas City v. Toronto

Kansas City is not in the NHL or the NBA.  Toronto is not in the NFL.  So it's only on the baseball field that these two cities can clash.  Even there it took a long time before they were both in the majors.  Kansas City had a team as early as 1955, in the form of the Athletics, but the Royals didn't come into being until 1969.  Eight years later, Toronto got the Blue Jays.  And ever since 1977, the Royals and Blue Jays have been part of the American League together.

For a while, they were two extremely well-run franchises.  The Royals went to the ALCS in 1976, 1977, and 1978, they won the pennant in 1980, and they won the World Series in 1985.  The Blue Jays went to the ALCS in 1985, 1989, and 1991, and won the World Series in 1992 and 1993.  But then there was a strike, and the Internet, and Derek Jeter, and somewhere in there both the Royals and Blue Jays faded to near-insignificance.  The Blue Jays didn't make the playoffs at all from 1993 until this season.  The Royals had a losing record in every season but one from 1995 through 2012.  Lots of ink was spilled whining about how teams like Kansas City and Toronto could no longer compete with the Yankees and Red Sox.

But that's all changed now.  The Royals are the defending American League Champions, and the Blue Jays beat the Yankees to win the AL East.  So it's like 1985 all over again.  The 1980's were a pretty weak decade for teams on the East Coast (except for 1986), so it doesn't get a lot of attention from the people who love baseball, but there were some great moments.  This 1985 series between the Royals and Blue Jays, for example, was a cracker.  Here's what happened:

1.  October 8, 1985 in Toronto:  Dave Stieb (who went 14-13 with a league-leading ERA of 2.48 in 1985) dominated the Royals, hurling Toronto to a 6-1 victory.

2.  October 9, 1985 in Toronto:  Trailing 4-3 in the top of the 9th, the Royals sent up Pat Sheridan to pinch hit.  He homered to tie the game.  In the top of the 10th, the Royals took a 5-4 lead when Willie Wilson singled, stole second, and came home on a single by Frank White.  But the Blue Jays won it with two runs in the bottom of the 10th off of Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry.  Al Oliver's two-out single was the game-winner.

3.  October 11, 1985 in Kansas City:  Down 2-0 in games and 5-2 on the scoreboard after four and one-half innings, the Royals rallied to tie the game at 5 after six.  In the bottom of the 8th, George Brett led off with a single.  He went to second on a bunt, went to third on a grounder, and scored the winning run on a single by Steve Balboni.

4.  October 12, 1985 in Kansas City:  Dave Stieb and Charlie Liebrandt hooked up in a pitchers' duel.  The Royals led 1-0 going into the 9th inning, only to have Liebrandt give up the tying run on a walk and a double.  The Royals pulled Liebrandt and brought in Quisenberry, who gave up a two-run pinch hit double to Al Oliver.  The Blue Jays won the game 3-1 and were one victory away from the pennant.

5.  October 13, 1985 in Kansas City:  Facing elimination at home, the Royals sent out 23-year-old Danny Jackson, who went 14-12 in the regular season.  Jackson saved the Royals' season, giving up eight hits -- but no runs -- in a complete game 2-0 shutout.  But Kansas City still trailed 3-2 as the series returned to Canada.

6.  October 15, 1985 in Toronto:  Leading 3-2 in the top of the sixth, the Royals picked up two huge insurance runs with back-to-back doubles from Buddy Biancalana and Lonnie Smith, and hung on for a 5-3 win.

7.  October 16, 1985 in Toronto:  With the pennant on the line, Toronto sent out Dave Stieb one more time.  He pitched well, but stayed in the game an inning longer than he should have.  Trailing 2-1 in the top of the 6th, Stieb walked George Brett, hit Hal McRae with a pitch, walked Balboni to load the bases, and then gave up a bases-clearing triple to Jim Sundberg.  The Royals won Game Seven 6-2, and Quisenberry got to retire the last Blue Jay batter in the ninth.

If we get anything that exciting this time, I will be very pleased.

Here are the top five Blue Jays of all time, as measured by Wins Above Replacement:

1.  Dave Stieb:  57
2.  Roy Halladay:  48
3.  Tony Fernandez:  37
4.  Carlos Delgado:  36
5.  Jose Bautista:  36

Here are the top five Royals of all time by the same measure:

1.  George Brett:  88
2.  Kevin Appier:  47
3.  Amos Otis:  44
4.  Willie Wilson:  42
5.  Bret Saberhagen:  41

Appearances in the ALCS (wins in bold):

Kansas City (3-4):  1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1984, 1985, 2014
Toronto (2-3):  1985, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993

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