Until last Sunday night the conventional thinking was that the Yankees had everything they needed for their first American League pennant in 12 years: hitting, pitching, speed and a best-of-five championship series with slumping Kansas City. The Royals were just an average team during the second half of the season—and a bad one in the last two weeks. Hardly a match for the poised, confident Yankees. But after losing the opening game 4-1, Kansas City changed some thinking by tying the series with a 7-3 victory on Sunday. As the teams headed for New York, the Yanks remained the favorite, but the Royals were decidedly in contention.
Kansas City began the playoffs clumsily, falling behind 2-0 in the first inning of the first game because of two throwing errors by Third Baseman George Brett. Brett did have three hits off Catfish Hunter, but they hardly atoned for his mistakes. After a 17-15 season, Hunter was his old playoff self, walking none and facing the minimum 18 batters in the first six innings. "That was the channel catfish today," said Manager Billy Martin. "The good kind that's edible."
But on Sunday the Yankees floundered, committing an American League playoff record five errors and leaving 11 men on. In the first, sixth and eighth innings, identical three-hit, one-error rallies produced Kansas City's runs. Brett keyed the sixth-inning go-ahead outburst with a booming triple to center. Paul Splittorff was the winner with 5‚Öî innings of shutout relief. Tendinitis had limited him to three appearances since July 27, and he even spent time in the instructional league working back into shape. On this night, however, it was the Yankees who belonged in the bushes.