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In 1976, the Royals capped their second straight 90-win season by winning the AL West crown over the vaunted Oakland Athletics, earning their first ever postseason appearance.  Though Kansas City lost to the New York Yankees in the ALCS, three games to two, the Royals were a young, balanced team that appeared ready and able to make it back to the postseason on a regular basis.  The Royals were indeed able to win the AL West again in 1977, this time winning 100 games for the only time in franchise history.  However, the end result was the same: a heartbreaking, five-game loss to the Yankees in the ALCS.

The 1977 roster was much the same as the previous year's, with a few notable exceptions.  Key starting pitcher Al Fitzmorris was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL expansion draft during the offseason, placing further burden on a pitching staff already suffering from the loss of Steve Busby to injury.  Partly to offset these losses, Royals general manager Joe Burke acquired young catcher Darrell Porter and starting pitcher Jim Colborn from the Brewers on December 6th, 1976, and utility player Pete LaCock from the Cubs two days later; all three men would play key roles in the 1977 title run.

 

Despite their eventual success, the Royals started the season off very poorly, ending May in sixth place with a 21-23 record.  They caught fire in June and early July, however, climbing to second place by the All-Star break.  The Royals continued their hot streak after the break, tearing through the second half of the season with a torrid .699 winning percentage and taking first place for good on August 20th, in the middle of a ten-game winning streak.  Kansas City won 25 of 30 games in September, including a club-record 16-game winning streak from August 31st to September 15th.  On September 16th, the Royals finally dropped a game to Seattle, 4-1...before rattling off eight more wins in a row on the way to a 102-60 record, eight games ahead of second-place Texas.

The Royals' ALCS opponent would again be the Yankees, who also won 100 games.  Unlike the previous year, however, Kansas City would get the home-field advantage in 1977.  The Royals managed to split the first two games in New York, winning Game 1 behind Paul Splittorff, 7-2, and dropping Game 2 to Yankee ace Ron Guidry, 6-2.  After Dennis Leonard pitched a complete game, 6-2 victory in Game 3, the Yankees found themselves one game from elimination.  The teams combined to score nine runs in the first four innings in Game 4, but Sparky Lyle came in to throw 5 1/3 shutout innings in relief for the Yankee win.  In Game 5, the Royals scored three quick runs off Guidry, who gave way to Mike Torrez.  Torrez pitched well in relief, but the Royals still took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 9th inning.  However, the Royals would watch a repeat of the 1976 ALCS, as the Yankees scored three runs off three different Royals pitchers, by way of two singles, a walk, a sacrifice fly, and an error by third baseman George Brett.  Lyle set Kansas City down in the bottom of the inning, winning his second game in two nights and handing Kansas City its second straight ALCS loss at the hands of the Yankees.

As in 1976, the 1977 Royals were accomplished on both offense and defense.  Star centerfielder Amos Otis had a relatively poor year, due to injuries,  but other players compensated.  DH Hal McRae batted .298 with 86 extra-base hits (including a league-leading 54 doubles), while Brett added power to his already formidable offensive skill set, boosting his home run total from 7 to 22, yet still batting .312.  Young right fielder Al Cowens came into his own in 1977, as well, hitting .312 with 112 RBIs, and leading the club in home runs (23) and triples (14).  The newly-arrived Porter proved to be a key contributor, hitting a very respectable .275 with 16 HRs.

Colborn did his best to fill the void left by Busby and Fitzmorris, winning 18 games.  Staff ace Leonard won 20, to go along with his team-best 3.04 ERA, and mainstay Splittorff contributed 16 wins of his own.  Other than these three pitchers, however, the Royals rotation was in constant flux.  While Colborn, Leonard, and Splittorff each started at least 35 games, no other pitcher started more than 27, and five different pitchers took turns filling out the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation.  The Royals primarily used ten pitchers throughout the season; of these ten, only reliever Steve Mingori didn't make a start, and four different pitchers saved at least four games.  Somehow, manager Whitey Herzog and pitching coach Galen Cisco effectively juggled all these parts, as the Royals led the AL in ERA (3.52).

By Matt Defraga
 

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Tagged:
1977 ALCS, Al Cowens, Al Fitzmorris, Amos Otis, Chicago Cubs, Darrell Porter, Dennis Leonard, Error, Expansion of 1977, Galen Cisco, George Brett, Hal McRae, Jim Colborn, Joe Burke, Kansas City Royals, Mike Torrez, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Paul Splittorff, Pete LaCock, Ron Guidry, Sparky Lyle, Steve Busby, Steve Mingori, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Trades, Whitey Herzog

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