After advancing to the postseason for the first time in 12 years the previous season, the Yankees captured their second consecutive A.L. East title in 1977. Buoyed by the additions of Reggie Jackson, Don Gullett, Bucky Dent, and Mike Torrez, the Yankees returned to the playoffs even stronger than they were one year earlier. The Yankees won three more games than they did in 1976, finishing the campaign with a record of 100-62, 2 ½ games ahead of both the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles.
New York’s offense finished near the top of the league rankings in runs scored (831), home runs (184), and batting average (.281). Despite experiencing a tremendous amount of adversity during his first year in pinstripes, Reggie Jackson ended up having a very productive season, batting .286, scoring 93 runs, stealing 17 bases, and leading the team with 32 home runs and 110 runs batted in. Defending A.L. MVP Thurman Munson had another outstanding year, hitting 18 homers, knocking in 100 runs, and batting .308. Chris Chambliss hit 17 home runs, drove in 90 runs, scored 90 others, and batted .287. Mickey Rivers stole 22 bases and finished among the league leaders with a .326 batting average. Lou Piniella batted .330 in a part-time role. Meanwhile, Graig Nettles had the most productive season of his career, placing second in the league with 37 home runs, knocking in 107 runs, and scoring 99 others, en route to earning a fifth-place finish in the MVP balloting.
New York’s pitching staff also performed extremely well, finishing third in the league with a 3.61 team ERA. Mike Torrez and Don Gullett each won 14 games, while Ed Figueroa and Ron Guidry topped the staff with 16 victories apiece. Guidry also led the starters with a 2.82 ERA. Sparky Lyle posted a 2.17 ERA, won 13 games coming out of the bullpen, and finished second in the league with 26 saves, en route to earning A.L. Cy Young honors.
Facing New York in the ALCS for the second consecutive year were the Kansas City Royals, who compiled the league’s best record during the regular season – a mark of 102—60 that placed them eight games ahead of the second-place Texas Rangers in the final A.L. West standings. Featuring a far more powerful offense than the one that came up just short against the Yankees in the 1976 playoffs, the Royals scored only nine fewer runs than New York (822), hit only 38 fewer home runs (146), compiled virtually the same team batting average (.277), and stole almost twice as many bases (170 to 93). John Mayberry hit 23 homers and drove in 82 runs. Hal McRae hit 21 home runs, batted .298, and finished second on the team with 92 runs batted in and 104 runs scored. Fred Patek led the American League with 53 stolen bases. George Brett hit 22 home runs, knocked in 88 runs, batted .312, and led the club with 105 runs scored. Right-fielder Al Cowens had the finest season of his career, earning a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by hitting 23 homers, scoring 98 runs, batting .312, and placing among the league leaders with 112 runs batted in and 14 triples.
The Royals also made significant advances on the mound, finishing first in the junior circuit with a team ERA of 3.52. Dennis Leonard established himself as the ace of the staff, placing among the league leaders with 20 wins, a 3.04 ERA, 244 strikeouts, 21 complete games, 293 innings pitched, and five shutouts. Jim Colborn finished second on the team with 18 victories. Paul Splittorff added another 16 wins.
Although the Yankees entered the ALCS as the defending American League champions, the Royals were thought to have an excellent chance of representing the junior circuit in the World Series.
Kansas City jumped all over sore-armed Yankee starter Don Gullett in Game One in New York, scoring four times in the first two innings, en route to posting a 7-2 victory. Hal McCrae, John Mayberry, and Al Cowens all homered for the Royals, while the Yankees scored their only two runs on a two-run homer by Thurman Munson. Paul Splittorff got the win for Kansas City.
The Yankees appeared flat at the start of Game Two as well, trailing the Royals by a score of 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning. But a long home run by Cliff Johnson over the centerfield wall provided a much-needed spark, and the Yankees ended up scoring five runs over the next two innings. Meanwhile, Ron Guidry allowed Kansas City just two runs on three hits, in earning a complete-game 6-2 victory.
The Royals regained the Series lead when the two teams met in Game Three in Kansas City the following day, roughing up Yankee starter Mike Torrez for five runs on eight hits, in just under six innings of work. Dennis Leonard allowed New York only two runs on four hits, in coasting to a 6-2 victory.
With their backs against the wall in Game Four, the Yankees jumped out to an early 4-0 lead, before the Royals closed to within 5-4 by the end of the fourth inning by scoring four times against New York starter Ed Figueroa. Manager Billy Martin then summoned Sparky Lyle, who shut out the Royals over the final five innings to even the Series at two games apiece with a 6-4 Yankee win.
Controversy subsequently ensued when Martin chose not to start Reggie Jackson in the decisive fifth contest against Kansas City starter Paul Splittorff, who usually held the slugger in check. But Jackson ended up delivering a huge pinch-hit single against Kansas City’s bullpen late in the game that helped New York overcome a 3-1 deficit in the final two innings. The Yankees scored once in the top of the eighth inning, before pushing across another three runs in the ninth, to come away with a 5-3 victory that earned them their second consecutive American League pennant. Paul Blair and Mickey Rivers delivered clutch hits during the ninth-inning rally, and Sparky Lyle worked the final two frames to pick up his second straight win.
Mickey Rivers starred on offense for New York throughout the Series, collecting nine hits in 23 times at-bat, for a .391 batting average. Meanwhile, Hal McRae was Kansas City’s top hitter, accumulating eight hits in 18 trips to the plate, for a batting average of .444.