The 1985 American League Championship Series was played between the Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays….as Major League Baseball decided to extend the Championship Series in both leagues from its best-of-five (1969–1984) to the current best-of-seven format starting with this year….and it proved pivotal in the outcome of the 1985 ALCS. The Blue Jays seemingly put a stranglehold on the Series by earning a three games to one lead over the Royals after four games. However, Kansas City staged an improbable comeback by winning the next three games to win the American League ChampionshipSeries four games to three. The Royals would proceed to defeat their cross-state rivals….the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series four games to three.
The oddsmakers favored Toronto, 8–5….but during the opening pregame show on NBC Sports….baseball analyst Tony Kubek was among the few who predicted a Kansas City victory….citing the Blue Jays’ struggles against left-handed pitching….and the Royals had a plethora of left-handed starters. This prediction was especially curious considering Kubek worked on Blue Jays television broadcasts during the regular season.
The Royals had long been a contending team in the American League….with great regular season success but frustration in the playoffs. They won three consecutive American League West division titles from 1976 to 1978….only to be defeated in the ALCS all three years by the New York Yankees. The Royals did manage to defeat the Yankees and win the ALCS in 1980….however, they lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies four games to two. In 1984, K.C. again won the West Division….but were swept in the ALCS by the eventual World champion Detroit Tigers….who won 20 more games during the regular season than the Royals…..as 1985 saw the Royals post a record of 91–71 (.562) winning another West Division pennant ahead of the California Angels by a game.
By contrast, the Blue Jays franchise was established in 1977….and the late 1970s and early 1980s for them were marked by the challenges faced by an expansion team….but beginning in 1982….they played increasingly solid seasons in achieving their first winning season in 1983….while finishing second in the American League East in 1984 behind Detroit….for 1985 proved to be a breakout year for Toronto….as they rode strong offense and pitching to the second-best record in MLB at 99–62 (.615)….while winning the AL East by two games over the Yankees.
In past years, a 2–0 hole would mean a must-win game….but the Royals entered Game 3 not having to win to keep playing but only to keep the series close. Game 3 saw the Royals send the 1985 Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen to the mound against Doyle Alexander for the Blue Jays….in a game that Royals 3B George Brett’s one-man show put the Royals back into the series. Entering the game, Dick Howser had an all-time postseason managerial record of 0–11.
With two outs in the first, Brett unloaded a home run to give the Royals a 1–0 lead. The Blue Jays threatened in the third when Garcia doubled and reached third on Lonnie Smith’s throwing error. Moseby grounded to Brett at third, who stunned everybody by gunning the ball home and getting Garcia to preserve the 1–0 Kansas City lead. In the fourth, Brett opened with a double….then went to third on McRae’s fly out to right….while scoring on White’s sacrifice fly to give the Royals a 2–0 lead.
But the Blue Jays fought back. In the fifth….as Whitt singled and Barfield homered to tie the game at two….then Garcia doubled and Moseby singled off of Saberhagen’s leg to put two on….when Rance Mulliniks drilled a three-run homer and the Blue Jays were suddenly ahead 5–2 and were 15 defensive outs from taking a 3–0 series lead. Bud Black succeeded Saberhagen and promptly loaded the bases on singles by Johnson and Bell and a walk to Whitt. With Barfield, who had already homered, at the plate…Royals Manager Dick Howser sent for Steve Farr to the mound…. who got the Royals out of the jam with a ground out.
The Royals fought back by getting a Jim Sundberg solo home run in the fifth to make it 5–3. In the sixth, Wilson singled and Brett hit his second homer of the night….thus tying the game at five. Dennis Lamp replaced Alexander and retired the Royals without any further damage. In the eighth, Brett singled….then went to second on McRae’s bunt…. and went to third on White’s infield grounder….then scored on Balboni’s bloop single….which was Balboni’s first hit of the series to give the Royals a 6–5 lead. Howser stuck with Farr who got through the ninth in order….with the last out coming on a foul pop by Lloyd Moseby….which was caught by Brett. With that, the Royals won, 6–5 and Brett had arguably his best playoff performance ever….going 4 for 4 with a single, a double, two homers, three RBIs, four runs scored, and throwing out Garcia at the plate. The win narrowed the Blue Jays lead in the series to 2–1 entering Game 4 in Kansas City.