The 1985 MLB season was one of the best ever. Three of major league baseball’s four divisions had races that came down the final week and all three were settled with head-to-head series in an era where there was no wild-card cushion. And the postseason? The playoffs saw both LCS winners lose the first two games and then roar back. The World Series that featured a big geographic rivalry went the full seven games, replete with game-winning hits, disputed calls and a nationally televised meltdown.
TheSportsNotebook.com has a series of articles that cover the following…
*The Kansas City Royals saw a decade of consistent postseason experience finally translate into a World Series title. They won it all, but it was never easy—comebacks in the AL West race, the ALCS and the World Series were all necessary.
*Whitey Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinals were the October foil for the Royals in the all-Missouri I-70 Series. The Cardinals were the best team in baseball during the regular season, winning 101 games and surviving an excellent division race with the New York Mets.
*The Toronto Blue Jays had come into existence in 1977 and after steady improvement they made 1985 their year, with an AL East title. Although a race that looked like it was on the bag on a couple different occasions got very interesting before it was over.
*The Los Angeles Dodgers, after a poor 1984 season, had a comeback year for Tom Lasorda. The Dodgers were the only team to clinch a division title before the final weekend of the season, thanks to a big year from third baseman Pedro Guerrero and the pitching of Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela.
*The California Angels had fallen off the map since their 1982 playoff appearance. The Angels had a veteran lineup and they brought a veteran manager—Gene Mauch—back to manage the team. The results were instantly positive, but the ending was disappointing as the Angels let a division lead slip away in the face of the Kansas City charge.
*And how about the Big Apple? The Mets and Yankees contended to the final Saturday of the season. Dwight Gooden had one of the great pitching seasons of all-time for the Mets. Billy Martin returned to manage the Yanks, what would prove to be his last rodeo in the Bronx.
*Kansas City and St. Louis each dug holes in the ALCS & NLCS respectively, and each rallied. The Royals won three straight, including the last two on the road. The Cardinals relied on consecutive games with big home runs, from Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark to close the pennant.
*And finally we come to the World Series itself. The Royals lost the first two games at home and ultimately fell behind 3-1 in the series. Their ultimate rally to win it all is most remembered by a dramatic Game 6. They got help from an infamous umpire’s call, cashed it in and then the Cardinals came unglued—both on the field and with their tempers—for the national audience.
The following ten articles tell you the stories of the four division winners, the three runner-ups and go game-by-game through all three postseason series. Together, they tell the story of a special baseball season through the eyes of its best teams.
It was a year of change in the MLB postseason structure for 1985. The League Championship Series expanded from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven and it had an immediate impact. The Kansas City Royals lost three of the first four games to the Toronto Blue Jays before rallying to win the 1985 ALCS.
Both teams had gone to the second-last day of the regular season to clinch their ALCS berths, but Toronto’s pitching rotation fell more naturally aligned, with ace Dave Stieb available to start Game 1. Kansas City countered with lefty Charlie Liebrandt.
The difference in pitching showed up immediately, as the Blue Jays attacked Leibrandt quickly. Jesse Barfield led off the bottom of the second with a single, Willie Upshaw was hit by a pitch, then Ernie Whitt and Tony Fernandez each hit RBI singles.
In the home half of the third, Cliff Johnson led off with a double, Barfield walked and Upshaw singled to load the bases Liebrandt was removed, but Rance Mulliniks greeted reliever Steve Farr with an RBI single, Ernie Whitt drew an RBI walk and Fernandez hit a sac fly. The teams traded runs in the fourth, and Stieb turned in eight innings of three-hit ball to close out a 6-1 win for Toronto.
The teams came right back the next afternoon, with Bud Black getting the ball for Kansas City against a young Jimmy Key for Toronto. The Royals got on the board in the third when Buddy Biancalana singled and Willie Wilson homered. They added another run in the fourth when Daryl Motley walked and scored on a double by Jim Sundberg.
Toronto started to come back in the fourth when George Brett committed an error and Johnson made it hurt with an RBI double. In the bottom of the sixth the Jays tied it. With two outs, Black hit George Bell with a pitch, and after a Johnson single, a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position, Barfield cleaned up with a two-run single.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Blue Jays increased the pressure on the Royals, as Lloyd Moseby singled, stole second and took third on an errant throw. Bell’s sacrifice fly put Toronto three outs from a win.
But KC answered with a home run from Pat Sheridan to tie it up, and in the top of the 10th they took the lead on a manufactured run of their own. Wilson singled, stole second and scored on a base hit from White.
Now Kansas City was ready to pick up the road split and move the series back home, with closer Dan Quisenberry on the mound. Fernandez quickly started the inning with an infield hit and moved into scoring position on a groundball out. Moseby singled and the game was tied again. After a bad pickoff throw moved him into scoring position, Quisenberry got George Bell to fly out. But Al Oliver, the veteran DH hit an opposite-field single and Moseby brought home the winning run.
All the pressure was on the Royals as they came home for the middle three games. Friday night’s Game 3 can only be remembered as “The George Brett Game.”
Brett came up in the first inning and homered. In the fourth, he doubled and came around to score on productive outs by Hal McRae and White. Everything was going smoothly for the Royals’ staff ace, Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen, as he took a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning.
Then it all got away from Saberhagen. After Whitt started the inning with a single, Barfield tied the game with a home run. With one out, Damaso Garcia doubled, Moseby singled and Mulliniks homered. In the blink of an eye, the Cy Young winner was out, the Blue Jays were ahead 5-2 and Toronto was in complete command of this series.
Sundberg got one run back with a home run in the fifth. One inning later it was Brett’s time again. After Wilson singled, Brett hit a game-tying home run. Then in the eighth, he singled and was bunted up by McRae. With two outs, Steve Balboni singled to center and the Royals had the lead.
Steve Farr had come out of the bullpen for Saberhagen in the fifth and Farr closed the game—appropriately enough the final out was a pop fly gloved by Brett. The ALCS was competitive again.
It was a Liebrandt-Stieb rematch in Game 4, in an era when pitchers often went on three days’ rest in the postseason. Each team missed a scoring chance early and the pitchers got settled in. It was scoreless in the sixth, when Lonnie Smith led off the Royal half of the frame with a walk. Wilson singled and Brett was intentionally walked. McRae then drew a walk to force in a run.
There was still no one out, and Kansas City and the chance to open the game up. But Sheridan popped out, White hit into a double play and it stayed a one-run game. And the missed chance would come back to haunt the Royals.
In the top of the ninth, Garcia drew a leadoff walk and Moseby followed by ripping a double into rightfield and the game was tied. Quisenberry was summoned, but quickly gave up a single to Bell and Oliver then slashed his own double to right. It was 3-1 and Toronto closer Tom Henke walked a couple KC batters in the bottom of the ninth but was able to close the win.
A late Sunday afternoon start saw Toronto aim to bring the World Series north of the border for the first time. Key was on the mound, while Kansas City answered with a talented young lefty of their own in Danny Jackson. And Jackson was dominant when his team needed him most.
Kansas City got a run in the first when Lonnie Smith doubled and eventually scored on a RBI groundout by Brett. They got another in the second when White beat out a bunt, took third on a Balboni singled and scored on McRae’s sac fly. Then Jackson took over.
Toronto threatened in the fifth, getting runners on second and third with one out. But a Fernandez groundout failed to pick up a run and Jackson escaped. The Jays also got second and third in the sixth, this time with two outs. Jackson got Whitt, then ripped through the next nine hitters in order to close the 2-0 shutout.
The Blue Jays were still in good shape, with two games at home at the old Exhibition Stadium ahead. The series resumed Tuesday night with Kansas City sending out young Mark Gubicza, while Toronto went to Doyle Alexander, the Game 3 loser to try and clinch.
Both teams struck quickly. Wilson and Brett drew first-inning walks and McRae ripped an RBI single. Toronto answered right back with a Garcia double, a Moseby single and even though Mulliniks hit into a double play, Garcia scored through the back door.
Kansas City got the lead in the third, again keyed by Wilson and McRae, who singled and doubled, and the score was 2-2. And again, Toronto had an answer. Fernandez drilled a one-out double, took third on a wild pitch and Moseby picked up with the run with a productive ground ball out.
Brett took over again in the fifth with a solo home run. In the sixth, after a Sundberg walk was followed by a sac bunt, consecutive doubles from Biancalana and Lonnie Smith made it 5-2. In between the two RBI hits, Alexander was removed.
Toronto again came back in the sixth, as Moseby singled and Upshaw walked, bringing the tying run to the plate with one out. Gubicza was pulled and Black came out of the bullpen. Johnson greeted him with an RBI single and a wild pitch moved the tying runs to second and third. Black then got Bell to pop out, perhaps the biggest out of the Royal season to date.
After escaping the sixth with the score still 5-3, Black settled in and closed out the remainder of the game with shutout relief. We were going to a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday night, and it would be the aces—Stieb and Saberhagen on the mound. At the risk of sounding clichéd, it’s tough to get much better than that.
The ace-on-ace storyline took a hit though, as Saberhagen had to leave after three innings. He was hit in the hand when trying to field a comebacker, and Liebrandt had to come on.
Sundberg had never been known for his hitting prowess, but he became a Royal legend on this night. In the second, after a Sheridan bunted his way on and moved up to second, Sundberg hit a two-out RBI single. It was 2-1 in the sixth when he came through even more dramatically.
Stieb lost his control early in the inning, walking Brett, hitting McRae with a pitch and walking Balboni. But with two outs, the Blue Jay ace was in position to escape. Sundberg came up and crushed a pitch to center. It stayed in the park, but it cleared the bases. Sundberg was on third with a triple. White tacked on an add-on run with a single. It was 6-1 and all but over.
There were no more pushbacks from Toronto. Liebrandt pitched 5.2 innings, the game ended 6-2 and Kansas City had the American League pennant. Brett was an easy choice for ALCS MVP.
Kansas City wasn’t finished on its Comeback Saga. They went on to the World Series and faced the St. Louis Cardinals. The Royals again lost the first two games–this time at home. They were in a 3-1 series hole. Despite getting to within three outs of elimination in Game 6 and needing one of the most hot-button umpiring calls of all-time to jumpstart their desperation rally, the Royals pulled it off. They again won three in a row and were finally champs.
The good news for Toronto fans is that their team was far from done competing on the October stage. The bad news is the heartbreak was just beginning. The Blue Jays collapsed in the final week of the 1987 regular season and lost the AL East. They lost the ALCS in 1989. They lost the AL East on the final day of the season in 1990. They lost the ALCS one more time in 1991. Finally, the breakthrough game–with back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.