It took a monumental performance by George Brett, some questionable strategy by the other side, some very good fortune and, finally, a meek bloop single that drove in the winning run.
But when it was over, the Kansas City Royals finally had won a playoff game. Their 6-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays before 40,224 fans in wet, cold Royals Stadium tonight cut the Blue Jays' lead in the American League Championship Series to 2-1. Game 4 in the best-of-seven series is here tonight at 8:15.
The victory broke a five-year, 10-game postseason losing streak for the Royals. It broke a 0-11 postseason string for Manager Dick Howser. And it gave the Royals hope in this series.
The architect of the victory was Brett, who went four for four with two home runs and four runs scored. The last came in the eighth, when he led off with a single against losing pitcher Jim Clancy. Brett scored with two out when Steve Balboni broke a two-year, 0-for-16 postseason streak with a tiny bloop over second base that dropped for the game-winning hit.
The other Kansas City hero was former DeMatha High and American University pitcher Steve Farr, who came on with the bases loaded in the fifth and the Royals trailing, 5-2, and pitched 4 1/3 shutout innings to earn the victory.
When Brett caught the last out -- a fly ball by Lloyd Moseby -- Farr and his teammates rushed to their leader to hug him and thank him for keeping them alive.
For most of the day, it didn't look as if there would be any baseball tonight. For the fourth straight day, Kansas City's skies were dark, with rain pelting down most of the afternoon.
But shortly before game time -- there was no batting practice -- the rain relented, although the skies remained threatening. By the time Bret Saberhagen walked to the mound, the skies were spitting, but that was all.
The game began well for Kansas City. In the bottom of the first, Willie Wilson singled with one out. With Brett batting, Wilson tried to steal second. He was thrown out on a short-hop throw by Ernie Whitt, a call Wilson argued vigorously. Howser came out, argued briefly with umpire Vic Voltaggio, then called home plate umpire Jim Evans out to have a look at pitcher Doyle Alexander.
No matter what Howser was looking for or what his purpose was, the little charade didn't help the Toronto pitcher. Brett launched his next pitch halfway up in the rightfield seats, a few feet inside the foul pole, putting the Royals up by 1-0. It was Brett's seventh playoff home run, putting him ahead of Reggie Jackson for the all-time AL lead.
With Saberhagen pitching, that was an encouraging start for Kansas City. But from the second inning on, it became increasingly apparent that Saberhagen didn't have his best stuff. The Blue Jays put two men on in the second, but Saberhagen pitched through it, striking out Whitt and Jesse Barfield.
In the third, Damaso Garcia lined a double down the left field line with one out and took third when Lonnie Smith bobbled the ball in the corner.
This time, Saberhagen was saved by Brett. Moseby chopped a hard ground ball down the third base line. The ball looked like a double coming off the bat. But Brett, playing wide of the base against a left-handed hitter, took two quick steps to the line and made a backhanded stab of the ball.
His momentum carried him well into foul territory. From there, he leaped in the air off-balance and threw a strike to the plate to nail Garcia handily. It was a play worthy of Brooks Robinson, circa 1970, and the crowd stood for almost a full minute celebrating the play. Even Brett broke into a broad grin.
That play preserved the 1-0 lead and two pitches later, Saberhagen picked Moseby off first. The call there was made by Ted Hendry, the same umpire who refused to make a call on Moseby's controversial non-catch in the 10th inning on Wednesday. A furious, finger-pointing Moseby had to be pulled away by Manager Bobby Cox.
Toronto had another chance in the fourth. Willie Upshaw doubled to the gap in left-center, but again Saberhagen made the vital pitches, getting Al Oliver to pop to left and striking out the always-angry George Bell looking to end the inning.
Then, in the bottom of the inning, Brett struck again. This time his rocket to right didn't quite clear the fence, hitting the top of the fence right at the 385-foot mark. Brett pulled up at second with his fifth hit of the series.
Alexander looked extremely vulnerable at this moment. But right fielder Barfield rescued him. First, Barfield ran down Hal McRae's line drive on the right field warning track, Brett taking third. Then he made a truly memorable catch, a running, lunging sliding-through-the-water catch of Frank White's line drive toward the gap.
Brett scored on the play, but White was robbed of at least a double by Barfield. Pat Sheridan ended the inning with another drive, but this one was almost right at Barfield.
Four line drives, one inning, one run. Alexander didn't look strong.
But in the fifth, the sky fell in on Saberhagen, and it wasn't rain. Whitt started it with a single. Then Barfield, having one of the great defense-offense innings ever, hit an opposite-field home run to almost the same spot where Brett's first inning shot had landed.
Suddenly, shockingly, it was 2-2. But matters quickly became worse for the Royals. After Tony Fernandez flied out, Garcia doubled down the right field line. That was the seventh hit off Saberhagen. The next one hurt most -- literally.
Moseby, always in the middle of everything, hit a one-hop screamer that hit Saberhagen squarely in the left foot. The ball was hit so hard that it bounced into the air and landed in left field, a good 100 feet from where it had hit Saberhagen. Garcia scored to make it 3-2 and Saberhagen, after hopping around for a moment, lay down on his back in obvious pain.
Howser came out, watched Saberhagen throw a couple of pitches and, at Saberhagen's request, stuck with him, apparently figuring that if your best says he can pitch, you let him pitch.
But Saberhagen could not shake off the pain completely. He got ahead of Rance Mulliniks 0-2, but grooved a fast ball. Mulliniks went deep to the same section as Brett and Barfield had, and it was 5-2. That was all for Saberhagen as Howser came to get him one batter too late.
At that moment, Royals Stadium was a tomb. Howser, wanting a lefty, went to Bud Black, who threw 103 pitches as Wednesday's starter. Black promptly loaded the bases. This time Howser went for Farr. Farr got Barfield, the 11th hitter of the inning, to ground to second.
Still, five runs were in and things looked bleak for Kansas City. But with Alexander getting his pitches up, the Royals weren't finished. They got one run back in the fifth when Jim Sundberg lined a homer to left. One batter earlier, Bell had made a nifty running catch of a Balboni shot on the warning track.
Thus, Sundberg's homer was the sixth straight shot hit off Alexander. But Cox stuck with him anyway. Like Howser, he was wrong to stay with his starter.
That became apparent in the sixth. Wilson led off with a single. Up came Brett. Already, he had the home run and the double that had missed going out by a foot. He couldn't possibly . . .
Yes, he could. On a 1-1 pitch, Alexander came up and in with a pitch, and Brett swung inside out and hit the ball deep to left-center. It landed almost halfway up the grassy hill behind the fence and the stadium was again transformed as again the game was tied, 5-5, courtesy of the remarkable Brett.
Cox still didn't come to get Alexander, and McRae promptly slashed a double to right. Finally, Cox went to fetch his battered pitcher, bringing in Dennis Lamp, who had retired 11 straight in relief Wednesday.
Lamp again did the job, getting the next three hitters to keep it 5-5. In the seventh, Lamp finally gave up a hit -- he had pitched 7 1/3 innings total hitless innings in his playoff career -- a two-out single by Smith. That was Smith's first hit, ending a 0-for-12 string. But Wilson hit another liner to Barfield and it was still 5-5 after seven.