by Kevin Burton
Long before the A’s, long before the Royals, The Kansas City Monarchs were charter members of the Negro National League in 1920.
The Monarchs were perhaps the most prominent team in Negro League baseball. KC is host to the Negro League Baseball Museum at 18th and Vine in the Jazz District.
The Royals honored that baseball heritage by asking the venerable Buck O’Neil to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Royals fans were at a high fever from the first pitch as game-one starter Dennis Leonard took the mound against Cincinnati’s Tom Seaver.
The Reds led the series two games to one but the first controversy of the game went against them. With one out in the first, George Brett hit what appeared to be a double play grounder. Brett was ruled safe on a close play at first. Most of the Reds had already headed for the dugout.
So instead of an inning-ending double-play, KC had Brett at first with two outs. They cashed that opportunity with back-to-back RBI doubles by John Mayberry and Hal McRae. The 2-0 lead had the fans out of their seats, out of their minds.
Cincinnati’s immediate rebuttal came in the form of hits by George Foster and Tony Perez. Two sacrifice flies later, Foster had scored to cut into the lead, but the threat seemed under control. Dave Concepcion however extended the inning with an infield hit.
Cesar Geronimo was in the lineup for a reason, his glove. He did not play in game three. But with two outs and two on in the second inning, Geronimo changed the tone of game four with his bat, sending a three-run homer over the right-field fence. The momentum of the Royals first inning was wiped out as Cincinnati led 4-2.
Each team had players caught stealing to take the steam out of rallies, Freddie Patek was caught stealing to end the second inning. Joe Morgan was thrown out stealing in the third. A stolen base did help the Royals inch closer in the fifth.
With two outs Willie Wilson singled and stole second. Amos Otis delivered with a run-scoring single to make the score 4-3.
Leonard had allowed baserunners but handled all threats since the Reds’ eruption in the second. But in the sixth Ken Griffey led off with what was only his second hit of the series. Morgan and Foster followed suit and just like that, the Reds got back the run they gave up in the fifth.
The good news for the Royals was that after hits in six straight at-bats, Perez finally made an out. The bad news, his sacrifice fly scored Morgan to put the Reds up 6-3.
Seaver was on the ropes in the seventh. Hits by pinch hitter Al Cowens and Patek brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh. But Wilson popped out and Otis hit into a double play to end the inning.
In the eighth Royals reliever Doug Bird got the benefit of a double play to end the inning.
In the Royals half of the inning Tom Hall came in to pitch to two left-handed batters. He retired Brett, but John Mayberry then gave KC hope with a towering home run, to make the score 6-4.
Rawly Eastwick came in and immediately gave up an infield hit to McRae. But then he retired pinch hitter John Wathan and Pete LaCock to end the threat.
For the third time Cincinnati answered right after KC had scored and it came with the help of unselfish play. After a single by Johnny Bench, Danny Driessen unexpectedly laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Dave Concepcion’s second single of the day gave Cincinnati an insurance run and a 7-4 lead.
In the ninth, Eastwick retired Cookie Rojas and pinch hitter Lou Piniella before Wilson singled.
Here’s Marty Brennaman on Reds radio.
“Wilson has stolen three bases on Bench including in the fifth inning today, of course not running here. Eastwick’s 2-2..that’s strike three swinging, and THIS one belongs to the Reds!”
Now trailing 3-1 in the series the Royals will send Steve Busby to the mound to try to stay alive. Gary Nolan will start for Cincinnati. Game 5 will run Monday on Page 7.