After winning seven West Division Titles, two American League pennants and participating in five out of the last ten Championship Series (76, 77, 78, 80, 85) the Kansas City Royals were still searching for that first elusive World Series title. The National League's St. Louis Cardinals had played in thirteen Fall Classics, won nine of them and entered the '85 contest #2 on the all-time world titles list (thirteen behind the New York Yankees).
With two powerhouses on the scorecard, the mid-eighties Classic promised to be a close race and most experts believed that it would all come down to pitching. The theory proved feasible as both clubs boasted stacked rotations including the Royals' Bret Saberhagen (20-6 record) and the Cards' John Tudor (21-8). As the Series opened up at Royals Stadium, Tudor set the pace with a dominant debut that sent the home team home with a 3-1 defeat. The following day Charlie Leibrandt turned the tables and was throwing a 2-0 masterpiece going into the final inning with three more outs to go. What appeared to be the sweet taste of victory for manager Dick Howser's Royals quickly turned sour as Jack Clark knocked in Willie McGee and it was all down hill from there. Tito Landrum followed with a double down the right field line that sent Clark to third and as the threatening Cesar Cedeno stepped to the plate, the Royal ace was forced to intentionally walk him. Now with the bases loaded, the strategy proved costly as Terry Pendleton doubled down the line in left, sending Clark, Landrum and Cedeno across the plate for the 4-2 comeback.
Now down two games to none, the sinking Royals entrusted Saberhagen to right their course as they entered the hostile waters of Busch Memorial Stadium. The sophomore right-hander got right down to business despite the distraction of his pregnant wife who was due any minute with their first child. In between flashing messages from the team's bench to his spouse, the expectant father tossed a brilliant six hit, eight strikeout performance. Former Cardinal Lonnie Smith led the 6-1 offensive effort with a two run double off Joaquin Andujar in the fourth and teammate Frank White followed close behind with an RBI double and two run homer of his own.
Tudor returned for Game 4 and held the American League champs to five hits with home-run backing from both Landrum and McGee. Landrum (in for the injured Vince Coleman) nailed a solo blast off Bud Black in the second and McGee went on to match him in the third. Later in the fifth, Tom Nieto added a perfect squeeze-bunt and the Cardinals moved two games up with the 3-0 triumph. The deficit was familiar territory for the Royals who had trailed the Toronto Blue Jays three games to one in the American League Championship and Howser and company weren't panicking yet.
The Cardinals planned to eliminate their opponents in Game 5 and started veteran Bob Forsch against a much younger and inexperienced Danny Jackson. Both teams struck for single runs in the first-inning, but KC added three more in the second including a two run triple by Willie Wilson. The surprise attack drove Forsch off the mound, but his rookie rival continued for a complete five hit, 6-1 victory that brought the Series back home.
Leibrandt headed to the mound for Game 6 and continued to pitch scoreless ball well into the seventh inning. Neither team changed the board though as Danny Cox matched the shutout and added eight-Ks going into the eighth. Brian Harper (who had substituted Cox at the plate) finally managed to break through the duel with a clutch, two out single that scored Pendleton who was stranded on second. Key Dayley replaced the departed Cox and worked a scoreless effort going into the bottom of the ninth. In a brilliant move, Howser sent in Darryl Motley (a right handed pinch-batter) to face the left handed closer. St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog caught the move and called for right-hander Todd Worrell to replace Dayley. As the chess game continued, Howser countered with Jorge Orta in place of Motley. The lefty responded with a hot grounder towards first baseman Jack Clark who fielded it with a toss to the covering pitcher. Umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe although everyone else in the park was convinced he had trailed Worrell by a step. Television replays indicated Denkinger was wrong, but the contested runner remained on first. Steve Balboni followed Orta with a textbook pop-out, but Clarke (still upset from the blown call) was unable to field the ball. Now with two runners on (including pinch-runner Onix Concepcion) Jim Sundberg bunted into a force out at third. As the revolving line-ups continued, Hal McRae stepped to the plate (for Buddy Biancalana) and was intentionally walked after Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter committed a passed ball that advanced all runners. Dane Iorg brought Concepcion home with a single to right followed close behind by Sundberg who avoided Porter's tag at home and the Royals tied the Series with the 2-1 victory.
Saberhagen was the obvious choice for the grand finale (despite becoming a father the day before) and the proud parent obliterated the Cards with a brilliant five hit shutout. St. Louis' rotation did not fare as well as Motley hammered a two run homer off Tudor in the second, Balboni delivered a two run single in the three run, third and Lonnie Smith launched a two run double in the six run, fifth. George Brett went four-for-five and Motley finished with three hits in the 11-0 massacre that crowned the "Comeback Kings" as World Series Champions. After almost a decade of "close, but no cigar" the Royals (and Saberhagen) finally had both.