Buddy Biancalana struck a blow for the underdog tonight. A late-night joke most of the season, the light-hitting Kansas City shortstop got a run-scoring double off Toronto starter Doyle Alexander in the sixth inning, then scored himself as the Royals forced the American League Championship Series to the limit with a 5-3 victory.
Biancalana carried a .100 average into the sixth game and was nothing for seven batting left-handed. But he singled to center against right-hander Doyle Alexander in the second inning, which might have been a warning to the Blue Jays' manager, Bobby Cox.
When Biancalana came to bat in the sixth with Jim Sundberg on second and one out, there were some who wondered why Cox hadn't yanked the struggling Alexander and others who wondered why Royals Manager Dick Howser was not sending up a pinch hitter.
David Letterman was probably wondering why Pete Rose wasn't playing in a championship series.
Biancalana hit a 1-0 pitch to the deepest part of right center, which might have shocked right fielder Jesse Barfield, because he picked the ball up and then dropped it as Biancalana raced to third. He scored on Lonnie Smith's ground double under first baseman Willie Upshaw's glove, the only hit yielded by reliever Dennis Lamp.
"I got something over the plate -- they'd been throwing me away -- and I made the most of it," Biancalana said. "With 1-0 and Sundberg on second, I knew I'd get something good to hit.
"I was down on the handle and I hit it good. I'd been choking up, trying to hit the other way, I'd been struggling so hard. It was real frustrating, getting an opportunity to play and not doing anything.
"After we won Game 5 in K.C., I felt it was an opportunity for me, a chance to play one more game and do something. I got up this morning and I thought, 'Here's my chance. Now I can do something.' A lot of great players, like Ernie Banks, have never even played in a playoff. I'm in it. Why shouldn't I do something?
"Actually, I felt more comfortable tonight than I did in the big series with the Angels the last week of the season. We had some hectic games and I guess just being in them settled me down a bit. Of course, guys like George Brett and Frank White and Hal McRae and Willie Wilson have helped, too. Everybody's been on my side."
Late-night television's Letterman hasn't helped much, of course. Biancalana is the man Letterman shredded so often this summer, the man whose statistics he had constantly updated as being so many thousand hits behind Rose. Tonight Biancalana got a little closer -- to Rose and to respectability.
"Even though I'm 4,000 hits away from Pete Rose, I'm a lot closer in my pursuit of him than he (Letterman) is of Johnny Carson," Biancalana said, making the most of his chance for a bit of revenge.
This was his night and he was happy to answer the most outlandish of questions. Yes, he is Italian, and his name means "white wool" and his grandfather came from Luca, Italy, sometime before his father was born. Yes, he has hit doubles before, "not too many and not so important. That was a big one."
As for a possible pinch hitter in that key spot, How-ser said, "I never considered it. Once we got the one-run lead, I wanted his glove in there. He has good quickness and sure hands out there. I don't want to give up his glove when we have a lead."
See, some people do say nice things about Biancalana, even if his batting average resembles the value of an Italian lira.
As for leaving Alexander in the game, when Lamp had been warming since the start of the fifth inning, Cox said, "The score was 3-2 and Doyle was throwing great. The 3-2 pitch to Sundberg, I thought we had him. Then Biancalana gets a triple. (It was scored a double and an error.) I thought Doyle was still throwing well."
It must be noted that even before Barfield dropped the ball, Howser was walking to the mound, carrying his hook. He'd just had a little white wool pulled over his eyes.