Some of the best, most tense and exciting baseball I’ve ever seen came when the Kansas City Royals were going to war – and that’s only slight hyperbole – with the New York Yankees in four American League Championship Series’ during a five-year span from 1976-80.
It was sensational. It was palpitating. And it was excruciating, especially a pair of Game 5s in 1976 and 1977, when the Royals were oh so close but couldn’t seal the deal.
My intent here is not to open old wounds here for Royals fans (or is it?), so I’ll be brief.
First, there was Chris Chambliss’s home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth in the fifth and deciding game of the 1976 ALCS that gave New York a 7-6 win after Kansas City had tied it with three runs in the top of the eighth.
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Then, in 1977, the Yankees scored three in the top of the ninth during a 5-3 win in Game 5.
Kansas City, which also lost in four games to the Yankees in the 1978 ALCS, finally exacted some revenge in 1980, sweeping the Yankees 3-0 in the ALCS before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the Royals’ first World Series.
KC fans will always feel like there should have been a couple before that.
Which brings us to today, nearly 39 years since the Chambliss blast.
Another Royals-Yankees postseason matchup could be looming, depending on what happens in Tuesday’s American League wild-card game between New York and the Houston Astros.
The winner of that will open a best-of-five ALDS at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday against the Royals.
Which makes me wonder: Which team would Kansas City fans rather their Royals play?
A friend of mine who pulls for the Royals wants the opponent to be Houston. No ifs, ands or buts. He was a kid when the Yankees broke the hearts of Royals fans everywhere and can still feel the pain.
The threat of losing to the Yankees in the postseason – again – is more than my friend could bear. Now, if he could be guaranteed a win over New York . . . well, that would be the best thing to ever happen. But, as he has come to realize over many years of being a fan of sports, guarantees just don’t exist.
What if the Royals were to lose to Houston? It would sting my friend, but not like a loss to the hated Yankees. When my friend opened a pack of baseball cards as a kid, he immediately tore up those of Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson or any of the other villainous New York players of the time.
My emotions are not on the line when it comes to the Royals, so I’m pulling for a Yankees-Royals ALDS. Astros? Not so much.
Houston is an interesting team. The Astros hit a bunch of home runs – second only to Toronto in the American League – and whiff a bunch. In fact, if it’s Houston that the Royals play in the ALDS fans should bring a little more heavy clothing to games because the Astros will create a gust of wind inside Kauffman Stadium with all of their strikeouts, a league-leading 1,392 of them.
Every player in the Houston lineup, though, is a threat to go deep. Eleven Astros reached double digits in home runs this season and five belted 22 or more.
Houston also led the American League with a 3.57 ERA and has a strong starting rotation of Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Mike Fiers, Scott Kazmir and Lance McCullers. Astros manager A.J. Hinch has not announced which four will make up the postseason rotation, although Keuchel will pitch against the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka in the wild-card game.
The Yankees have offensive firepower, too, but not like Houston. The Yankees won 87 games during the regular season, one more than Houston. The Astros won four of seven from New York during the regular season, but there’s little to choose from in their wild-card matchup.
Kuechel, 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA, pitched one of his best games against New York in Yankee Stadium on June 25, blanking the Yankees’ 4-0 while allowing six hits and striking out out 12.
Tanaka, meanwhile, gave up six earned runs in five innings in his only start against the Astros this season on June 27.
How much does any of that mean? Maybe a lot. Maybe nothing.
Royals fans will be tuning in, for sure. Some, like my friend, will be pulling hard for Houston to avoid the painful memories of years past.