So if the Yankees are to do it, this is the time. It's 4-2, Kansas City ahead, top of the sixth. But the Yankees get the leadoff man on base. Well, here they come. Small children in Dubuque know the Royals fall dead at the Yankees' feet in the playoffs. And here come the Yankees, with Rick Cerone slashing a grounder just inside third base for a double.
Not a double.
George Brett has it in his glove. The man who hit .390, the wild and crazy bachelor whose eyes can melt a heart a mile away, the only man in Kansas City who can meet the president and have folks ask, "Who's the little guy with George?" -- yes, George Brett has snared Rick Cerone's would be double, the double that might have started the Yankees on one of those rallies that have left this city in pain so often.
And Brett, astonishingly, rockets a throw to second base so quickly that second baseman Frank White not only makes the force-out but nearly gets Cerone at first, too.
Brett says 'tweren't nothin'. "We'd have doubled him if I gave it my Bart Starr jump pass," he said, the corners of his smile tinged with the leavings of a day's chewing tobacco.
To make the throw on that play most times, Brett leaps in the air to save the fraction of a second he took today planting his feet.
"In the playoffs," he said mischievously, "you have to play more conservatively."
The Royals won today, 7-2. There were several nice developments on the Kansas City side. For one, pitcher Larry Gura woke up from a month-long coma in which he had slept through six defeats. "The last month, Larry has been terrible," Brett said. "Ask him, he'll tell you, 'I was just terrible.''' Today he was wonderful, giving the Yankees no more than one base runner any inning after dishing up two homers in the second.
For another, the Royals showed up unafraid of the Big Bad Bombers who terrified all of Kansas City by winning three straight playoffs in 1976, '77 and '78. In the necessary nine victories those years, the Yankees came from behind in six games -- and won a seventh on a last-at-bat home run.
From the moment Brett stretched a bloop single into a double in the first inning, the Royals ran the bases aggressively. They stole two bases, were picked off twice and generally kept the Yankees wondering if, any moment now, Willie Wilson would fly straight from first to third across the pitcher's mound.
Best of all, though the Royals for the first time ever, showed they, too, can play this comeback game. For the first time in 15 playoff games with the Yankees, the Royals spotted the dreaded pin stripes two runs and rallied to win. It was always the other way around; three times the Royals lost after building two- and three-run leads.
"If we lost this first game by letting 'em score on us late, we'd be saying, 'Here we go again,''' said designated hitter Hal McRae, who, with Brett, has played in every K.C. playoff game. "But they got those two home runs today and it was us who came back to get them. And when we got ahead, they didn't really give us a scare."
"I thought it was important to get ahead early," Brett said. When Cerone and Lou Piniella stroked successive second-inning home runs off Gura, the Royals were quickly behind, 2-0. Brett too, said he thought, "Here we go again."
The Yankee curse at work?
Well, professional athletes don't believe in jinxes and curses and superstition. We all know that. That's why they do all those rational things, such as never stepping on the base lines.We know the Royals don't ever think about the Yankee curse in these playoffs. Sure they don't. Not at all.
That's why George Brett had that cap in his locker with these words across the front: "Damn Yankees."
Maybe that's why his locker's top shelf, which serves as a library, has a book such as "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health," right along-side the definitive work on the lunacy of modern man, "The Bronx Zoo," a diary of the Yankees' 1978 season (in which the dreadnoughts of October beat the Royals in four games, coming from behind in the last two.)
Naw, George Brett doesn't think about the Yankees.
We know because he tells us so. "If there was a Yankee curse, we wouldn't have beaten them eight out of 12 this season," he said. "People make it seem like it's war between us and the Yankees. If it was Boston or Toronto, I'd want to win just as bad. I want to beat anybody."
Brett admitted he didn't speak for his constituents, however.
"For the city, for Kansas City itself, beating the Yankees would be extra, extra sweet," he said.
The largest crowd of the season, 42,598, saw Tom Watson, the golfer, throw (?) the first ball. He shanked it. He threw it 10 feet over catcher Darrell Porter's head. The fans cheered madly, knowing full well that their fair Tom could have used a driver and done it right, and they never let up all day, sending choruses of appreciation to their heroes in white.
"I've got the biggest headache of the year," Brett said, "just from concentrating so much today and from hearing
The Royals are ready for bigger things, too. With their division title wrapped up so early -- three weeks before the end of the season -- Brett said the Royals then thought of individual goals, such as his hitting .400 and Gun and Dennis Leonard winning 20 games Such selfishness produced the slump that left Brett at .390 and Gura stuck on 18 victories, he said.
"But that's over now," Brett said "This is a new season. And whatever happened in those other playoffs doesn't mean a thing. This is the best team I've ever played with. No question about it."
An hour later, two young guys in Yankee jerseys get on an elevator. The Kansas City catcher, Porter, says kindly "Boooooo." Porter sees a policeman with the pair. "Obviously troublemakers, Mr. Cop, take 'em to jail," the catcher says. And when the elevator door open, the cop says to the guys in Yankee caps, "All right, let's go."
They left in handcuffs.
Porter smiled at this affirmation of a supreme being.