Monday, September 29, 2014

Kansas City vs. Oakland in the Postseason

The Kansas City Royals are in the postseason for the first time since before I was born (I turn 28 this week). It should be an amazing atmosphere at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night, much like Pittsburgh's PNC Park was for last year's Wild Card Game. The Oakland Athletics stumbled to a 16-30 finish, but they get a fresh start and still have the best run differential in baseball (+157).

James Shields vs. Jon Lester makes for a great pitching matchup in what will be the second Royals-Athletics postseason meeting and the fourth between Kansas City and Oakland in the Big Four North American sports postseasons. Let's take a look at the first three...

1968 AFL Divisional Round

The great Chiefs-Raiders rivalry featured playoff clashes in consecutive winters in 1968 and 1969. The Raiders had six future Hall of Famers (Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto, George Blanda, Fred Biletnikoff and Willie Brown) and the Chiefs had seven, plus coach Hank Stram (Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan, Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier, Emmitt Thomas, Curley Culp and Jan Stenerud). Both teams went 12-2 to tie for the AFL Western Division title, forcing a tiebreaker game, one of just two during the AFL's 10-year run. The winner would be favored in the AFL title game against the Eastern Division champion New York Jets.

It was a showdown between Oakland's league-leading offense (32.4 points per game) and KC's league-leading defense (12.1), and the high-octane O rolled this time. Daryle Lamonica threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter (24-yarder to Biletnikoff, 23-yarder to Warren Wells and a 44-yarder to Biletnikoff) as the host Raiders raced out to a 21-0 lead.

The Chiefs got on the board in the second quarter, settling for two short Stenerud field goals before another Lamonica-to-Biletnikoff bomb (54 yards) netted those points back for Oakland for a 28-6 halftime advantage. The Raiders tacked on 13 points in the final frame, combining Lamonica's fifth TD pass (35 yards to Wells) with two Blanda field goals. The rout finally ended at 41-6 (NFL Films highlights).

Lamonica is one of eight quarterbacks to throw five touchdowns in a playoff game, along with Sid Luckman, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Kurt Warner, Kerry Collins, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. He and Warner are the only ones to do it in two postseason games.

The Raiders moved on to the Championship Game at Shea Stadium. They took a 23-20 lead in the fourth quarter, but Joe Namath drove the Jets down the field for the winning touchdown. Of course, the Jets' run wasn't over yet as they stunned the Colts and the football world in Super Bowl III.

1969 AFL Championship Game

A year later, the Raiders (12-1-1 under rookie head coach John Madden) and Chiefs (11-3) finished 1-2 in the AFL West and both reached a modified postseason. Now each division champ would host the runner-up of the other division in a semifinal game prior to the title bout.

The Chiefs went to New York and edged the East champion Jets 13-6 and the next day the Raiders thrashed the Oilers 56-7 behind six TD passes by Lamonica. The Chiefs, who lost to the Raiders twice during the regular season, would get another crack at their rival with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

The Raiders thought they'd breeze to the Super Bowl and even packed their bags assuming a trip to New Orleans. The K.C. defense smothered the high-flying Raiders after spotting them a first-quarter touchdown. After trailing 7-0, the Chiefs scored the next 17 points, with rushing scores by Wendell Hayes and Robert Holmes to go along with a Stenerud field goal. Emmitt Thomas had two of Kansas City's four interceptions to secure the victory in what turned out to be the final game in American Football League history. The 1969 Chiefs and 1983 Raiders (vs. Seattle) are the only teams to avenge two regular season losses with a win in the conference title game. After the Chiefs pulled a shocking 23-7 upset of the Vikings in Super Bowl IV, the NFL and AFL merged into the league we know today.

* The Chiefs and Raiders have have squared off in one other playoff game, but it was in 1991 when the Silver and Black called Los Angeles home.

1981 American League Division Series

A player strike from June 12 to August 9 forced the cancellation of 712 games and split the season into two halves. The first-half and second-half champions of each division would meet in a best-of-five series in order to reach the LCS. At the time of the strike, Billy Martin's A's had the AL's best record at 37-23, securing a spot in the West Division Series. The Royals snagged the other spot with a 30-23 second-half mark, 20-13 since replacing manager Jim Frey with Dick Howser.

Led by an outfield of Rickey Henderson, Dwayne Murphy and Tony Armas and the pitching of AL ERA leader Steve McCatty, Oakland ran up a 64-45 overall record. That was 11 games better than Kansas City at 50-53, and it showed in this October mismatch.

The A's took Game One in K.C. behind a four-hit shutout from Mike Norris. Dennis Leonard pitched well for the home team, but a fourth-inning George Brett error at third opened the door for Wayne Gross' three-run homer. Murphy took Leonard deep in the eighth for the final tally in a 4-0 Oakland win.

McCatty was given a lead in the next game before he even took the mound in the first inning. Murphy singled off Royals starter Mike Jones and he came around on an Armas double. In the fifth, the Royals tied the score with three straight two-out singles by John Wathan, U.L. Washington and Willie Wilson. The 1-1 score held until the top of the eighth, when Murphy led off with a single, moved up on Cliff Johnson's bunt and scored on another Armas two-bagger. McCatty wriggled out of trouble in the bottom half before a 1-2-3 ninth sent the A's home with a 2-0 series lead.

Oakland closed it out in front of the home fans two days later in Game Three. Armas once again drove in the game's first run in the opening frame, this time with a single off Larry Gura (19:45 mark in above video). Murphy stroked run-scoring hits in the third and fourth innings (and was also thrown out trying to steal home) to go with Dave McKay's solo shot and the A's led 4-1 through four. The Royals came back with four hits in the fifth, but could not score against Rick Langford thanks to Clint Hurdle getting picked off second base and George Brett's bases-loaded popout. Langford scattered 10 hits in seven and one-third innings, but only allowed one run in one of just nine playoff games with double-digit hits and one or no runs. Tom Underwood and Dave Beard recorded the final five outs for a 4-1 victory and 3-0 series sweep.

The A's waited as the East Division Series went the full five games, with the Yankees outlasting the Brewers. Martin went back to New York to face his former team and they gave his club a whooping even worse than the one they had just given to K.C. The Yankees batted .336 as a team and outscored Oakland 20-4 in a three-game sweep.

Salvador Perez Eric Hosmer Omar Infante Alcides Escobar Mike Moustakas Alex Gordon Lorenzo Cain Nori Aoki Billy Butler Jarrod Dyson Danny Valencia Josh Willingham Kelvin Herrera Wade Davis Greg Holland Derek Norris Adam Dunn Brandon Moss Stephen Vogt Josh Donaldson Jed Lowrie Coco Crisp Sam Fuld Josh Reddick Dan Otero Ryan Cook Luke Gregerson Eric O'Flaherty Sean Doolittle

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