Royals Top 50 Moments: No. 40-31

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The Royals are celebrating their 50th season.  We’re going to celebrate with a Top 50 list of the greatest moments in franchise history.

Previous: No. 50-41

When you bring up the Kansas City Royals to a baseball fan outside of Kansas City the first (probably, only) player they think of is George Brett.

Not uncommon for fans to think of Brett.  He is the only Royals player to get to 3,000 career hits and he holds almost every career record in hitting in franchise history.  George is also the only true Royals player (not counting Orlando Cepeda, Harmon Killebrew, or Gaylord Perry) to be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1993, Brett was at the end of his illustrious career.  Injuries and age had finally caught up to the 13-time all-star.  Brett announced that the 1993 season would be his last.

After an emotional final home-game against the Cleveland Indians (a game where Brett drove in the tying run in the eighth) the Royals traveled to Arlington to take on the Texas Rangers.  The Rangers were celebrating the end of Nolan Ryan’s Hall-of-Fame career and the fans stood every time Brett came to the plate.

George came to the plate in the ninth-inning of his final game having 3,153 hits, 665 doubles, 317 home runs, 1,596 runs batted in, three batting titles in three different decades (only player in MLB history to do so), a 1980 Most Valuable Player award, the 1985 ALCS Most Valuable Player, and too many postseason accolades to count.  All Brett wanted to do in his final at-bat was hit a groundball that made him hustle down the line.

Facing Tom Henke, Brett hit a 1-2 pitch back up the middle.  Rangers shortstop possibly had a play at it, however, the ball bounced into center-field for a single.  Career hit number 3,154, prompting another standing ovation from the Rangers’ crowd.  A story book ending to a storied career:

If you were to ask baseball fans who was the single-season home run king in Royals history, few would have guess Steve Balboni.  After finding out it was Steve Balboni, people would have wondered how that record had stood since 1985.

That record came down in 2017.

A year after spending most of the season on the disabled list with a torn ACL, Mike Moustakas came into the season on a mission.  After hitting his first home run of the season in his second at-bat, he would go onto twenty-five homers before the all-star break and would be the third Royal to participate in the Home Run Derby (joining Bo Jackson in 1989 and Danny Tartabull in 1991).

Moustakas, who also holds the Royals record for most home runs in a single postseason, hit his 36th home run of the season on September 1 in Minnesota off of former Royal Dillon Gee, tying Steve Balboni for the team record. Then, inexplicably, Moustakas went on a fifteen-game dry spell, including fourteen straight games where he failed to drive in a run.

Then, on September 20 in Toronto, Moustakas came to the plate with the Royals up 12-0 facing Blue Jays pitcher Carlos Ramirez.  After taking two pitches, Moustakas hit a line drive that cleared the wall in right-field, giving him his 37th home run and a new team record.  Moustakas would finish 2017 with thirty-eight home runs.  However, the chase was a very exciting part of a disappointing season for the Royals.

And if you’re wasted time reading this, you can surely give 16 more minutes to watch all 38 of his glorious DONGS:

38.  George Brett Goes Deep Three Times in the Bronx

George Brett was the producer of many of the Royals greatest postseason moments.  He was known for coming through when the Royals needed him the most.

The Royals came to the Bronx in 1978 having split the first two game on the American League Championship Series while also looking to beat the Yankees, something that alluded them in 1976 and 1977.

In Game 3, Brett would lead off against future Hall-of-Famer Catfish Hunter.  He would open the game with a bang…literally, leading off with a home run and staking the Royals to an early 1-0 lead.  Brett came to the plate again in the third with the score tied at one.  Brett took a pitch and then unloaded on the second one to give the Royals a 2-1 lead.

The Yankees would take the lead in the fourth when Brett came to the plate in the fifth down one. Brett took the first pitch for the second time in a row and then would unload on his third home run in five innings, tying the game at three.

Brett’s final line: 3-5, 3 HR, 3 RBI.

All three home runs would come off Hunter.  Unfortunately for the Royals, all of Brett’s home runs were solo shots and the Royals would drop Game 3, 6-5, and would fall to the Yankees for the third straight season.  However, Brett would become the fourth player in baseball history to hit three HR in a postseason game and is now one of only nine players to ever accomplish this feat.

This would be one of many postseason accomplishments for the Royals GOAT.

37.  Cain Can Fly

October is the most exciting time to watch baseball.  The air is crisper, the pressure is on every pitch, and the fans are more locked in. October baseball is the best.

On October 23, 2015, Royals fans got all the excitement they could handle.

The ALCS had switched back to Kansas City with the Royals having a 3-2 series lead on the favored Toronto Blue Jays.  In a 1985 rematch, the Royals would be the team jumping to a 3-1 lead.  After falling in Game 5, some Royals fans were seeing a reverse Deja’ vu.  The Blue Jays were the best offense in baseball and were the hottest team in baseball when they came to Kansas City.  They could easily win three in a row, which they did to get to the ALCS in the Division Series against Texas. Royals fans were feeling the pressure.

Game 6 started off with the Royals taking a 2-0 lead on solo shots from Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas.  The Royals took a 3-1 lead into the eighth when Jose Bautista hit a game-tying 2-run homer – his second homer of the night, sending the game into the bottom of the eighth.

This is where the game became a thing of legend.  A forty-five-minute rain delay between the top and bottom of the inning with Toronto having the momentum.

When play resumed, Lorenzo Cain drew an eight-pitch walk to lead-off the Royals half of the eighth.  That’s when Eric Hosmer stepped to the plate.  The hero of so many Royals playoff games throughout 2014 and 2015, Hosmer’s goal was just to get Cain in scoring position.

Hosmer hit a ball into the right-field corner, forcing Bautista to cut the ball off.  Bautista did a great job to hold Hosmer to a single, however, Cain never slowed down and, instead of throwing the ball to first, he threw to the ball toward Tulowitzki covering second.  That allowed Cain the time he need to round third and head towards home at full-speed.  Tulowitzki fired towards the plate, Cain slid…safe!  At that moment, Kauffman Stadium was shaking.  Lorenzo Cain had scored from first on a single to give the Royals the lead.

After some “tense” (George Brett was checking his pulse) moments in the top of the ninth, Wade Davis buckled down and the Royals won their second consecutive pennant.  The image of Cain rounding third and racing towards home was indicative of how the Royals played.  Tough, smart, and fast baseball.

36.  George Brett Homers in the first World Series game in Royals Stadium

1980 was a year to remember for the Royals.  George Brett flirted with .400, falling five hits short, and the Royals finally overcame the hated Yankees to win their first American League Pennant, bringing the World Series to Kansas City for the first-time ever.

Game 3 was a must-win for Kansas City after having dropped Games 1 and 2 to the Phillies in Philadelphia.  If the Royals were going to get back in the series, they had to win Game 3.

Up in the air before Game 3, however, was the status of their star third baseman.  George Brett had come out of Game 2 with a case of hemorrhoids.  He had surgery the day before Game 3 and, in his words, put his “troubles behind him.”

In the biggest moment of the franchise to that point, Brett stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the first.

In the first-ever game in Royals Stadium history, it was poetic for Brett to get the first hit by a Royal in a World Series game played in KC. But, not only was it a hit, George drove it over the wall for a solo shot and a 1-0 Royals lead that sent Royals Stadium into a frenzy.

The Royals would go onto win Game 3 on a Willie Aikens walk-off single in the tenth.  However, the Royals would drop two of the next three to the Phillies and lose the series in 6.

Though they lost the series, many of the lessons learned from that 1980 World Series would be used five years later in another World Series where the Royals faced a similar situation.

35.  Bo Jackson throws out Harold Reynolds…From the Wall!!!

The 1989 Kansas City Royals were arguably the best team in Royals history not to make the postseason.  A big reason for their 92-70 season was the contributions of one Vincent “Bo” Jackson.

The legend of Bo Jackson was a remarkable one (if you haven’t watched the 30 for 30 on Bo Jackson, you really need to). This part of his legend came on June 5, 1989 in the Seattle Kingdome. Tied 3-3 in the bottom of the tenth. The speedy Harold Reynolds (who led the American League in stolen bases in 1987, the only year a guy by the name of Rickey Henderson didn’t take home the crown in that decade) was on first when Scott Bradley came to the plate. Reynolds took off on a 3-2 pitch that Bradley hit into the left-field corner.  The only way to catch the speedy Reynolds was with the perfect throw.  Bo picked up the ball near the wall, turned, and threw a strike to Bob Boone at home plate.  The ball arrived just as Reynolds was sliding towards home. Boone, a Gold Glove catcher, caught the ball and placed the tag on Reynolds before he touched the plate.  Reynolds was in disbelief, the crowd was in disbelief, the Royals dugout was in disbelief.  It was 331 feet from home plate to the foul pole in left.  Bo threw the ball, on a line from about 350 feet away from home to nab Reynolds.

The Royals would eventually win the game, 5-3, in thirteen innings.

34.  3-Peat!  The Royals win the American League West 3x in a Row!

The 1978 season marked the Royals tenth year in existence and they had quickly rose to be one of the most successful franchises of the 1970s.  They had overcome the Oakland Athletics to take the American League Western Division in 1976.  They won 102 games in 1977 (more on that in a moment).

The 1978 Royals were led by veteran CF Amos Otis, who hit .298 with 22 home runs and 96 RBIs. The pitching staff was led by 21-game winner, Dennis Leonard, who started 40(!) games in 1978, including 20 complete games.  The Royals also got 19 wins from veteran lefty, Paul Splittorff, and a 16-4 record from Larry Gura.

On August 27, the Royals beat the Texas Rangers, 4-2, and took a half-game lead in the division.  It was a lead the Royals would never relinquish. They would finish 92-70, five games ahead of the second-place California Angels and the Rangers.

Though, for the third-straight season, the Royals would lose in the American League Championship to the Yankees, it marked the third straight year that Whitey Herzog would lead the Royals to the postseason.

33.  Carlos Beltran’s Opening Day Walk-Off

The Royals went into 2004 with high expectations, including some in the baseball world predicting them to end their postseason drought by winning the American League Central, after a surprising run in 2003 that saw them in first place at the All-Star break before fizzling out, finishing 83-79 – their first winning season since the strike-shortened 1994. General Manager Allard Baird went out and signed two big-name free agents in Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago.  They had Carlos Beltran patrolling center-field as well as Mike Sweeney being the reliable All-Star he was.

On Opening Day 2004, the Royals faced off against division rival Chicago White Sox. The game did not start the way Royals fans would have hoped. Brian Anderson gave up five-runs in five innings. Shawn Camp gave up two over the next two innings before Nate Field and D.J. Carrasco settled things down.

Going into the ninth, the Royals trailed 7-3. After Joe Randa and Ken Harvey walked to start off the ninth, Benito Santiago drove in Randa on a double down the left-field line. After an Aaron Guiel strikeout, up came pinch-hitter Mendy Lopez. Lopez, who hit only six home runs in his major league career, drove a 3-1 pitch from Damaso Marte over the center-field wall to tie the game.

After 2003 Rookie of the Year, Angel Berroa, singled, Carlos Beltran came up to the plate. Beltran, in the final year of his contract, was looking to have a break out season that many had predicted him to have. Beltran jumped on a 2-2 fastball and killed the baseball off the Mountain Dew sign in the left field fountains, and giving Royals fans hope for great things in 2004.

Unfortunately, for Royals fans, that was the highlight of their season.  They would finish 58-104, though Beltran would see postseason action that year…in Houston.

32.  Royals win 102 games

There have been many great teams in Royals history. Four of them (1980, 1985, 2014, 2015) have won a pennant and two (1985, 2015) have won a World Series. However, none of those teams won 100 games in the regular season.  The only team in Royals history to achieve that?

The 1977 Kansas City Royals.

The Royals were stacked around the diamond.  They had Darrell Porter behind the plate, John Mayberry at first, Frank White at second, Freddie Patek at short, George Brett at third, Tom Poquette in left, Amos Otis patrolling center, Al Cowens roaming right, and Hal McRae was the designated hitter.  Five of the hitters hit .275 or better, four had more than 20 HR and six had double-digit stolen bases.

The pitching was even better. Dennis Leonard was the ace of the staff, winning 20 games with 21(!!!!) complete games while setting a team-record for strikeouts with (244) – a record that still stands today. Jim Colborn won 18 games and even threw a no-hitter ALCS.  The bullpen was solid, with three pitchers earning double-digit saves.

On June 16, the Royals were shutout by the Yankees, 7-0. Their record stood at 28-31 and seven games behind the division leading Minnesota Twins. The Royals would then go 74-29 the rest of the way, including a 16-game winning streak from August 31-September 15.  The Royals would take over first-place on August 20. They would turn, at their worst, a 7.5-game deficit to win the division by eight games.

Though the Yankees would, again, defeat the Royals in five games in the ALCS, KC won 102 games – a feat, in the regular season, that has not been accomplished by seven playoff teams, four pennant winners, and two World Championship teams since.

31.  Paul Splittorff wins 20 games

No list would be complete without having the Royals all-time leader in wins, the late Paul Splittorff.

“Splitt” was one of the original Royals. In fact, he threw the first pitch for any team in the Royals organization for the Corning Royals.

1973 was a breakout season for Splitt.  He started out by winning his first three games, going the distance in his first two and shutting out the Chicago White Sox.  In the first half of the season, he was 12-5 with a 3.50 ERA and nine complete games.  Though Splittorff would cool off in the second-half of the season, on September 26, Splittorff earned his fifth straight victory and became the first Royals pitcher to win twenty games in a season.

Splittorff would became a mainstay in the Royals rotation during their successful years in the late 1970s that would win three division titles. Splitt would stay with the organization after he retired, becoming a color commentator for Royals games on television until his death in 2011.

***

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