What if: 1977 Kansas City Royals v. 1995 Cleveland Indians
Before getting there, I thought it might be helpful to jog the memory banks a bit, especially for the Royals, considering most probably weren’t alive.
Kansas City was in the beginning stages of a mini-dynasty, a stretch from 1975-1985 which saw them reach the postseason seven times and the World Series twice. For three straight seasons, 1976-1978, they were beaten by the New York Yankees in the ALCS in what I believe to be the best cumulative postseason games I’ve seen.
The Royals in ‘77 set a still standing franchise record with 102 wins, winning the AL West by eight games over the Texas Rangers. They finished fifth in runs scored and tied for the AL lead in pitching with their ALCS opponents.
The Royals that year were led by Hal McRae, who finished in the top five in most offensive categories. Second baseman Frank White and rightfielder Al Cowens won Gold Gloves, with third baseman George Brett being the lone All-Star selection. Pitching wise, staff ace Dennis Leonard tied for the league lead in wins and finished second to Nolan Ryan in strikeouts. Jim Colborn won eighteen games, Paul Splittorff sixteen, and Whitey Herzog’s bullpen by committee had three pitchers with ten or more saves.
The Indians in 1995 were freakishly good, in a season delayed at the start due to a work stoppage they still managed to win 100 games despite playing just 144. They won the AL Central Division by thirty games over the second place Royals, and beat the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox in the AL playoffs before being upset by the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.
The Indians’ strength was clearly on offense, as they lead the league in runs scored by a wide margin, but finished in the second half of the league leaders in both pitching and defense. The Indians had five player finish in the top ten of the AL batting race, wtih slugger Albert Belle leading the league in homers and RBI and speedy centerfielder leading the league in triples and stolen bases.
Reliever Jose Mesa was the Fireman of the Year behind his league leading 46 saves, shortstop Omar Vizquel and Lofton won Gold Gloves, with second baseman Carlos Baerga, Belle, Lofton, Mesa, starting pitcher Dennis Martinez and outfielder Manny Ramirez landing on the All-Star team.
Make no mistake, the Indians offensive prowess led to their pitching success, despite a combined ERA over four, both Orel Hershiser and Charles Nagy won sixteen games, with Martinez chipping in with a dozen.
OK, on with it.
Cleveland gets home field based on winning percentage.
Just by lookng at the final score you’d think the Indians bats went crazy, but the opposite is true, as the Royals laid a whuppin’ on the Tribe, 17-3. Led by Hal McRae’s 6-6 performance which included a cycle, Kansas City totalled twelve extra base hits out of their twenty two total. The Royals hit five homers; by McRae, John Mayberry, Amos Otis and a pair from George Brett. Shortstop Freddie Patek had four hits, with Brett scoring four runs and driving in five.
A two run first inning homer by Brett, a second inning single by Tom Poquette, and third inning homers by Brett and McRae made the score 6-0 after three. The Indians temporarily made a game of it in their half of the third, with four consecutive two out singles by Carlos Baerga, Eddie Murray, Jim Thome and Albert Belle doing the damage.
The Royals blew the game open in the fourth off starter Orel Hershiser and reliever Jason Grimsley with seven runs, the big hits being a two run double by Brett and a two run triple by Al Cowens.
A solo homer by Mayberry in the fifth, a run scoring and cycle capping triple by McRae in the seventh, and a two run, tape measure homer off the centerfield batters eye by Otis in the ninth capped the scoring.
Hershiser and Grimsley were the primary victims of the Royals offense, combining to allow thirteen runs in three and two thirds innings. The Indians went on to use a total of six pitchers, with only Jim Poole escaping unscored upon.
Paul Splittorff went five innings for the win, with two inning relief stints by Steve Mingori and Marty Pattin finishing up.
The Royals took a 2-0 series advantage as Andy Hassler outdueled Dennis Martinez, 6-3. The Royals were led offensively by rightfielder Al Cowens, who had three hits; Frank White, George Brett, Hal McRae and Darrell Porter had two each, with Amos Otis scoring two runs.
Cleveland jumped to an early lead in the second when Manny Ramirez drilled a fly ball to deep leftcenter which went in, and then out, of the glove of Amos Otis.
The Royals speed played a part in the scoring, as they stole five bases in the game. Cleveland did manage eleven hits of their own led by Sandy Alomar’s three, but not enough came when needed.
The first game on Kansas City’s artificial surface ended with the same result, with the Royals moving one step closer to ending the series with an 8-1 win.
Trailing 1-0 entering the home half of the third inning thanks to a first inning double by Carlos Baerga, the Royals scored all eight of their runs, four of which were unearned thanks to an error by left fielder Manny Ramirez.
Al Cowens led off with a triple, his third of the series, and scored on a double by Darrell Porter, who himself scored a minute later on a double by Tom Poquette. The next batter, shortstop Freddie Patek, lofted a short fly ball to left which Ramirez dropped. After Frank White struck out looking, George Brett doubled in two runs and John Mayberry doubled in Brettt. After Hal McRae was hit by a pitch, Cowens, hitting for the second time in the inning, drilled a three run homer into the fountains in dead center field.
Ace Dennis Leonard went eight innings for the win, striking out nine. Charles Nagy took the loss for Cleveland, allowing all eight runs, although thanks to Ramirez’ muff, only four were earned.
Cleveland avoided the sweep in Game Four, pounding Game One starter Paul Splittorff and five relievers for twenty-one hits in a 12-7 victory.
The Indians wasted no time, finally getting some timely hits with runners in scoring position and taking advantage of two Freddie Patek errors, to score five unearned runs in the top of the first inning.
The Royals came back with four runs of their own in the second inning capped by a three run homer by Darrell Porter. Starting in the third inning, the Indians scored in five consecutive innings, highlighted by a two run, fourth inning double by Carlos Baerga and a two run, sixth inning homer by Paul Sorrento.
The Indians were led by four hit performances from Eddie Murray and Jim Thome and five RBI from Sorrento. Starter Ken Hill gave up all seven runs in three plus innings, but a trio of Cleveland relievers scattered just three hits the rest of the way’
Coming off his solid Game One start, Splittorff was knocked around in his three and two thirds innings, allowing nine runs and fourteen hits. Frank White with three hits and three runs scored and Porter with his three run bomb led the Royals’ offense.
The Indians narrowed the gap to one and assured themselves of at least one more game in front of the Cleveland crazies with a 9-2 win. Tied at one after six innings, the Tribe clocked four homers off three Royals relievers to send the series back to Jacobs Field.
Held to just three hits and a run through six by soft-tossing lefty Andy Hassler, the Indians onslaught kicked off when, after Al Cowens dropped Eddie Murray’s fly ball in the right field corner, Jim Thome homered just over Cowens’ outstretched glove, breaking the tie.
A solo homer by Darrell Porter narrowed the Indians’ lead to one, but back to back homers by Albert Belle and Murray off Doug Bird in the eighth and a mammoth, upper deck shot by Manny Ramirez in the ninth closed the scoring.
For Cleveland, Belle led the way with three hits and three RBI, with Omar Vizquel, Murray and Ramirez chipping in with two each. Orel Hershiser rebounded from his Game One shellacking, scattering six hits over eight innings.
George Brett, Al Cowens and Tom Poquette had two hits each for Kansas City.
The Royals obviously enjoy being road warriors as they wrapped up the series in six games with an 11-2 win, with three of them coming away from home. The Royals jumped on Dennis Martinez early, scoring two runs in the second inning and didn’t stop until they scored eleven runs and twenty two hits, nailing Martinez with seven and thirteen, respectively.
John Mayberry led the way for Kansas City with four hits, everyone else in the lineup had at least two except leadoff man Freddie Patek. Frank White drove in three, with George Brett, Mayberry, Amos Otis and Darell Porter scoring two each.
Dennis Leonard went the distance, scattering seven hits, with a fourth inning solo homer by Carlos Baerga and back to back seventh inning doubles by Eddie Murray and Jim Thome accounting for the Indians’ scoring.
Hal McRae was named series MVP by one vote (because that’s all which were cast) over Dennis Leonard and Darrell Porter.
The consensus in the comments were the Royals would win this series based on their pitching advantage and that was clearly the case, although their speed advantage was a factor. The Royals totaled sixteen stolen bases for the series, with nine different players having at least one.
In looking back at their respective successes, I would say while the Indians certainly are well deserving of their reputation as a mini-dynasty, it is built strictly on offense.
The Royals were better longer (eleven years to seven) and were a more well rounded team.
The result, while small, doesn’t surprise me.
What say you?