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The Yankees finally returned to the postseason in 1976 after 12 long years.  Managed by Billy Martin in his first full season as team skipper, New York captured the A.L. East title, finishing 10 ½ games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles, with a record of 97-62.  Playing an aggressive style of baseball under Martin, the Yankees finished third in the American League with 163 stolen bases.  They also placed second in the junior circuit with 730 runs scored, 120 home runs, and a .269 team batting average.      

Although no one in New York’s starting lineup stood out as a truly dominant hitter, the Yankee batting order was perhaps the deepest in the American League.  Mickey Rivers and Willie Randolph symbolized the team’s aggressive approach on offense.  Rivers led New York with 43 stolen bases and a .312 batting average, and he also finished second on the team with 95 runs scored.  Randolph placed second to Rivers on the club with 37 steals.  Veteran left-fielder Roy White batted .286 and led the league with 104 runs scored.  Chris Chambliss hit 17 homers, drove in 96 runs, and batted .293.  Graig Nettles supplied much of the power, leading the league with 32 home runs, while also knocking in 93 runs and scoring 88 others.  Team captain Thurman Munson hit 17 home runs, drove in 105 runs, and batted .302, en route to earning A.L. MVP honors.  Rivers placed third in the balloting, while Chambliss finished fifth.

New York also had arguably the league’s best pitching staff, leading the junior circuit with a team ERA of 3.19.  Catfish Hunter finished 17-15, with a team-leading 21 complete games and 299 innings pitched.  Dock Ellis compiled a record of 17-8 and a 3.19 ERA.  Ed Figueroa led the staff with a record of 19-10 and a 3.02 ERA.  Meanwhile, Sparky Lyle excelled in relief, compiling a 2.26 ERA and leading the league with 23 saves.

Facing the Yankees in the ALCS were the Kansas City Royals, who made their inaugural appearance in the playoffs in their first full season under manager Whitey Herzog.  Kansas City ended Oakland’s five-year reign as A.L. West champions by finishing 2 ½ games ahead of the A’s, with a record of 90-72.  Although Kansas City’s lineup offered little in the way of power, hitting fewer home runs (65) than all but one other American League team, the Royals had outstanding team speed that enabled them to play an even more aggressive brand of baseball than the one employed by the Yankees.  The Royals placed second in the junior circuit with 218 stolen bases, and their lineup featured no fewer than seven players who amassed at least 20 steals.  Kansas City’s .269 team batting average was identical to the mark compiled by New York, and the Royals scored only 17 fewer runs over the course of the regular season.

Diminutive shortstop Fred Patek was the team’s primary threat on the base paths, placing among the league leaders with 51 steals.  Although John Mayberry batted only .232, the big first baseman led the team with 95 runs batted in.  Centerfielder Amos Otis batted .279, led the club with 18 homers, and finished second on the team with 86 runs batted in, 93 runs scored, and 26 stolen bases.  Designated hitter Hal McRae drove in 73 runs and finished a close second in the A.L. batting race with a mark of .332.  Barely edging out his teammate for the batting title was George Brett, who earned a second-place finish in the MVP voting by batting .333, knocking in 67 runs, scoring 94 others, stealing 21 bases, and leading the league with 14 triples, 215 hits, and 298 total bases. 

Kansas City also rivaled New York on the mound, compiling the second-best team ERA in the league, with a mark of 3.21.  The Royals’ starting rotation featured four pitchers who finished in double-digits in victories.  Dennis Leonard led the staff with a record of 17-10, 16 complete games, and 259 innings pitched.  Al Fitzmorris placed second to Leonard with 15 victories and led the starters with an ERA of 3.06.  Doug Bird and Paul Splittorff chipped in with 12 and 11 victories, respectively.

The combination of New York’s superior power, Kansas City’s greater team speed, and the parity shown between the two clubs in virtual every other area made for an interesting and intriguing first-round matchup.

The Yankees took Game One in Kansas City by a score of 4-1, with Catfish Hunter throwing a complete-game five-hitter.  George Brett collected three of Kansas City’s five hits off Hunter, but he also committed two costly errors in the field.  Meanwhile, light-hitting shortstop Fred Stanley collected three safeties for New York.  The defeat proved to be a particularly costly one for the Royals, who lost the services of Amos Otis for the remainder of the Series when he injured his ankle running out a grounder in the very first inning.

The Yankees collected 12 hits against three Kansas City pitchers in Game Two, but they only scored three runs.  Meanwhile, the Royals scored four times against Ed Figueroa in a little over five innings, before pushing across another three runs in the eighth inning against Yankee reliever Dick Tidrow, en route to evening the Series with a 7-3 victory.

Dock Ellis allowed the Royals three runs in the first inning when the Series shifted to New York for Game Three.  However, he shut out Kansas City the rest of the way, before being relieved by Sparky Lyle in the ninth inning, allowing the Yankees to mount a 5-3 comeback.  Chris Chambliss was the hitting star for New York, driving in three runs with a homer and a single.

The Royals rebounded again in Game Four, tying up the Series at two games apiece with a 7-4 victory.  Kansas City knocked out Yankee starter Catfish Hunter in just the fourth inning, scoring five times against the right-hander and coasting the rest of the way.  Graig Nettles knocked in three of the four New York runs with a pair of home runs.

Game Five at Yankee Stadium was a see-saw affair that featured several lead changes.  The Yankees took a 6-3 lead into the top of the eighth inning, before George Brett tied the contest with a three-run homer off Grant Jackson.  The scored remained tied heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, when Chris Chambliss sent the Yankees to the World Series by hitting reliever Mark Littell’s first pitch of the frame over the right-center field wall, just over the outstretched glove of a leaping Hal McRae.  Chambliss ended the Series with two home runs, eight runs batted in, and a .524 batting average.  Thurman Munson also starred for New York, collecting three RBIs and batting .435.  Meanwhile, George Brett performed brilliantly for the Royals in a losing effort, knocking in five runs and batting .444.

By Bob_Cohen
 

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Tagged:
1976 ALCS, Al Fitzmorris, Amos Otis, Billy Martin, Catfish Hunter, Chris Chambliss, Dennis Leonard, Dick Tidrow, Dock Ellis, Doug Bird, Ed Figueroa, Fred Stanley, Freddie Patek, George Brett, Graig Nettles, Grant Jackson, Hal McRae, John Mayberry, Kansas City Royals, Mark Littell, Mickey Rivers, New York Yankees, Paul Splittorff, Roy White, Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Whitey Herzog, Willie Randolph

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