Bob Costas was in the broadcast booth for NBC during the 1985 American League Championship Series and can pick out morsels of highlights of the Royals’ triumph over the Toronto Blue Jays. But one game produces vivid memories.
“The Brett game, it was enormous,” Costas said.
The George Brett Game. Old-school Royals fans, and younger ones who know the team’s history, can recite the evening’s accomplishments and comprehend its meaning.
Four-for-four, four runs scored, two home runs and three RBIs in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, a 6-5 victory that prevented the Royals from falling into a 3-0 hole.
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Thirty years later, the current Royals and Blue Jays will write their own chapter in the ALCS. Half of those who will start for both teams in Friday’s Game 1 at Kauffman Stadium were born after the memorable 1985 clash, which marked Toronto’s first postseason series.
It also turned out to be the Royals’ final playoff year for nearly three decades, and it might have ended without the franchise’s lone World Series championship had it not been for Brett’s heroics in Game 3.
“Best game I ever played in my life,” Brett said.
No small claim for the player who entered the Hall of Fame in 1999 with the fourth-highest voting percentage in baseball history.
Brett recalled a regular-season game against the Orioles when he hit for the cycle and blasted two home runs.
But given the occasion and the spotlight, no game by a Royal tops what happened on Oct. 11, 1985, when the franchise’s greatest player delivered his greatest game.
“Everybody remembers games in October,” Brett said.
Down to the smallest details. Today, every pitch type, speed and location is instantly available data. In 1985, that information was estimation for everybody but the pitcher and hitter, and it’s likely Brett’s powers of recollection were greater than those of Doyle Alexander, the pitcher Brett tattooed in his first three plate appearances.
The Royals had something brewing in the first when Willie Wilson singled with one out and Brett stepping up.
“I swung and missed at the first pitch, a change-up in the dirt,” Brett said. “I’m thinking he’s going to throw me a fastball because Willie’s on first.”
Brett missed his guess on the pitch, but he was right about the fleet Wilson taking off. He did and was thrown out.
“Ernie Witt picks it up in the dirt and throws him out at second,” Brett said. “So, now I’m thinking just hit the ball up the middle. Alexander threw me another change-up.”
Brett got the bat head around and parked that pitch into the right-field seats to give the Royals a 1-0 lead.
He led off the fourth, and this plate appearance, rather his effort after contact, pains him to this day.
“Slider middle-in got on me a little bit, but I thought I had a home run,” Brett said. “And this is one of the biggest regrets I have in my career. I always prided myself in running everything out. I thought it was a home run. I thought I got enough of it. It hit off the top of the wall. No outs, but I’m stuck at second base. It should have been a triple.”
Brett’s biggest regret turned into a run when Hal McRae and Frank White each hit deep fly balls. The Royals led 2-0.
The Blue Jays sent 10 the plate in the fifth and posted five runs. The lead was 5-3 when Brett stepped up in the sixth and homered to left center. His worst swing of the night came in the eighth, when he led off against Jim Clancy.
“Rolled over on a sinker,” Brett said.
The ball squirted into right field. Two outs later, Brett stood at third, and Steve Balboni hit a pop fly that found a patch of turf between the center fielder, shortstop and second baseman. Brett crossed home for the final run in a 6-5 victory with a smile stretched across his face.
“It funny, a game like that you remember every detail,” Brett said.
But he recalled little specifics about the rest of the series. The Blue Jays fought back to win Game 4, pushing the Royals to the brink of elimination.
The Royals then reversed the series and won three straight, capturing their second American League championship. They followed the same script in the World Series, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win the title.
Today’s Royals can relate. They staved off two elimination games to beat the Astros in the Division Series, erasing a four-run deficit in the eighth inning of Game 4. Kindred spirits perhaps, these Royals separated by 30 years.
But nothing that has happened in this team’s postseason games can match the night Brett put his club on his back and refused to let the team lose.
Royals legendary scout Art Stewart won’t soon forget what he saw that night.
“For a single-game performance, it ranks in the top three or four,” Stewart said.
Not the best? Consider the company it keeps in Stewart’s heart, all personal World Series memories:
Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in 1956; Reggie Jackson’s three home runs for the Yankees against Los Angeles in 1977; and the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson belting a game-winning home run off the Athletics’ Dennis Eckersley in 1988.
“But Brett that night,” Stewart said, “that was special.”