Royals' amazing playoff run started 29 years ago

Royals' postseason win streak could be one for the ages.

When last seen in the World Series 29 years ago, the Royals' de facto MVP was Don Denkinger, a major league umpire whose blown call at first base helped them avoid losing in six games to the Cardinals.

Given new life, they staged a ninth-inning rally to win Game 6 before cruising to an 11-0 victory in Game 7, capturing their first and only championship.

"They kept pushing our backs to the wall time and again," Royals closer Dan Quisenberry said in the winners' clubhouse. "But you know what? We found out that wall has rubber padding and we just bounced right off. The sword of Damocles kept swinging down and giving us haircuts, but we kept ducking."

You don't hear players mentioning the sword of Damocles much these days. It was a different era.

That '85 Royals team is still treated like royalty in Kansas City, much like the '85 Super Bowl champion Bears are in Chicago. Now the Royals are finally back in the Series with a chance to make some history.

If the Royals beat the Giants in Game 1 on Tuesday, they'll tie the all-time record for consecutive wins in postseason games — 12 — set by two different Yankees teams.

Babe Ruth, meet Mike Moustakas.

"These guys believe in themselves, they're having some of the best at-bats they've had all year," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "They've always played great defense. The starting pitching has always competed, and the bullpen has always been dominant, so hopefully we can continue with that formula."

The record was originally set by the 1927, '28 and '32 Yankees, who swept World Series matchups against the Pirates, Cardinals and Cubs, respectively. Joe Torre's teams tied the mark in '98 and '99, winning the final three games of the '98 American League Championship Series against the Indians before sweeping the Padres in the World Series, then sweeping the Rangers in the '99 division series and winning the first two games against the Red Sox in the ALCS.

No one would suggest the Royals' and Yankees' streaks are comparable. Ruth and Lou Gehrig starred for the original Yankees teams, while Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams were key members of the late '90s Yankees. Most of the key players on the 2014 Royals weren't even born when the '85 team stormed back to beat the Cardinals.

Since it began during the prehistoric era — when Major League Baseball was almost on par with the NFL in popularity — a brief history lesson of the Royals' streak is in order.

Their last postseason loss occurred in Game 4 of the '85 Series when Cardinals starter John Tudor shut them down 3-0 at old Busch Stadium. With a three games to one lead, the Cardinals were feeling confident enough that Tudor threatened to punch a reporter during his postgame interview session, saying, "What do you want me to do, swing on you? Will that make your job easier?"

Undaunted, the Royals showed up loose and relaxed for Game 5 at Busch. George Brett even went up to some Cardinals players at the batting cage before the game and began giving them the business.

"All right, all right, we've got 'em right where we want 'em," Brett said. "They're up 3-1. We've got 'em eating out of our hands. Here it is, guys. Come and get it. Birdseed."

The Royals stayed alive with a 6-1 win, then went back to Kansas City and staged the controversial comeback to win Game 6, an infamous night in World Series history. Trailing 1-0 in the ninth, pinch hitter Jorge Orta hit a dribbler to first and was seemingly out on a short toss from first baseman Jack Clark to pitcher Todd Worrell.

Denkinger clearly blew the call, ruling Orta safe, and replays confirmed it. But nothing could be done since replay challenges were nearly three decades away. After the Denkinger call denied the Cardinals their championship, manager Whitey Herzog went ballistic.

"They screwed up in the American League playoffs and they screwed up in the National League playoffs, and they screwed us tonight," he said. "We've got that same jerk (Denkinger) behind the plate Sunday night."

It didn't matter, as Tudor was rocked early in the 11-0 loss.

The streak was on hold for 29 years before this year's American League wild-card game, in which the Royals rallied from a four-run, eighth-inning deficit against A's ace Jon Lester and the bullpen, winning 9-8 in 12 innings.

"That wild-card win against Oakland made these guys mature," hitting coach Dale Sveum said. "And it was all relaxation after that. It was like they were playoff veterans all of a sudden. It was like, 'We've done this in the biggest game of our lives.' Kind of unique how it all came together."

The rejuvenated Royals swept the Angels in the division series and the Orioles in the ACLS, becoming the first team to win its first eight postseason games.

No one could explain it, not even manager Ned Yost.

"I don't care if it's momentum, I don't care if it's a streak, I don't care what it is," Yost said afterward. "We just won the American League."

Can the Royals carry that momentum into the World Series, or will a five-day break bring them back to earth?

We'll find out this week whether the sword of Damocles is still hanging over the Royals' heads.

psullivan@tribune.com

Twitter @PWSullivan

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