1985 World Series: A Seven-Game Show-Me Showdown

The 1985 World Series was the year the Fall Classic went exclusively prime-time—all games at night for the first time ever, something that has not changed since. And it was a Series that was ready for prime-time as the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals gave America a fun regional rivalry, the Show-Me State Showdown, and a seven-game series, replete with controversy, as the Royals ultimately won their first championship.

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You can read more about the paths each team took to their division titles and then their victories in the LCS at the links below. This article will focus exclusively on the games of the 1985 World Series.



The series opened in Kansas City, per the league rotation system that existed prior to 2003. St. Louis had its ace, 21-game winner John Tudor, ready, to face Kansas City’s Danny Jackson, a young lefty with a good hard slider. A pitcher’s duel ensued.

Kansas City picked up an early run in the second when Jim Sundberg drew a one-out walk, followed by base hits by Daryl Motley and Steve Balboni. With runners on the corners, Motley was thrown out trying to steal home to help keep the game 1-0.

What seems at first glance like a foolhardy play, has some logic. Light-hitting shortstop Buddy Biancalana was at the plate and Jackson was due up next. There was no DH in play in the 1985 World Series, as the rules at the time said that whatever league did not have homefield advantage used its rules for the entire series.

St. Louis tied it in the third, when Terry Pendleton and Darrell Porter hit consecutive singles and Willie McGee picked up the RBI with a groundball. In the fourth, Tito Landrum and Cesar Cedeno hit back-to-back doubles for a 2-1 lead.

Tudor settled in and worked seven sharp innings. St. Louis added an insurance run in the ninth and young reliever Todd Worrell closed out the 3-1 win.

Another pitcher’s duel followed in Sunday night’s Game 2, as Danny Cox worked for St. Louis against Kansas City’s Charlie Liebrandt. The Royals grabbed two runs in the fourth, when Willie Wilson singled and George Brett and Frank White each doubled. Liebrandt was locked in and it was still 2-0 in the ninth as he looked to close the complete game.

McGee opened the ninth with a leadoff double, but Liebrandt got the next batters. Even when Jack Clark singled and Landrum doubled, Liebrandt still had the 2-1 lead, with runners on second and third. Showing how much differently games were managed then, Kansas City manager Dick Howser let Liebrandt stay in the game, even with closer Dan Quisenberry available. After an intentional walk, Pendleton lined up a double into the left field corner. The bases cleared and St. Louis had a 4-2 win.

The combination of the heartbreaking loss, along with the fact St. Louis had two straight wins on the road seemed to indicate this Series was already all but over, as the teams traveled I-70 to play the next three games at Busch Stadium. But Kansas City had won the final two games of the 1985 ALCS on the road in Toronto, and they would not fold in the face of the road crowd in St. Louis.

Kansas City ace, and soon-to-be Cy Young Award winner, Bret Saberhagen was on the mound for the must-win Game 3. He was facing Joaquin Andujar, who had won 21 games himself and just three years earlier, won Games 3 & 7 of the 1982 World Series. But Andujar had struggled in his two starts in the 1985 NLCS and that continued here.

After three scoreless innings, the Royals got to Andujar, starting with a light rally. Sundberg drew a walk and Biancalana beat out an infield hit After two were out, Lonnie Smith—ironically traded from St. Louis to Kansas City earlier in the season—ripped a double into the gap for two runs. In the fifth, George Brett singled and Frank White homered. It was 4-0 and Andujar was out.

St. Louis mustered a run in the sixth on consecutive singles from Ozzie Smith, Tom Herr and Jack Clark, but Saberhagen finished off a complete-game six-hitter, the Royals added two runs in the seventh and the 6-1 final made the Series competitive again.

Tudor was on the mound for Game 4, and seemed to just as quickly turn the lights off on this whole Series. He was dominant, throwing a complete-game five-hitter. Landrum and McGee hit early home runs and St. Louis coasted to an easy 3-0 win. Only in the seventh, when the Royals loaded the bases with two outs, did Tudor face trouble. He got Hal McRae to ground to third, ending the threat.

St. Louis was in command, but if you wanted to look for signs of trouble, they weren’t hard to find. The Cardinals weren’t hitting at all. They had 11 runs in four games and four of those runs had come in a single inning, the late rally of Game 2. And with two home games still ahead, if KC could somehow survive Game 5, this Series could be put back in play.

The middle three games at Busch Stadium had been defined by great pitching and that continued in Game 5. Jackson joined Saberhagen and Tudor in throwing a dominant complete game, as he kept Kansas City alive.

KC eased the pressure on themselves with a run right away in the first inning, as Lonnie Smith and Wilson each singled, followed by productive outs from Brett and White for a 1-0 lead. St. Louis was able to tie it with consecutive doubles from Herr and Clark in their own half of the first, but Jackson shut it down from that point forward, throwing five-hitter.

The Royals essentially finished the game in the top of the second. Sundberg doubled and Biancalana singled off St. Louis vet Bob Forsch. After a Lonnie Smith walk, Wilson tripled and the game was 4-1. It stayed that way most of the night, until KC tacked on runs in the eighth and ninth for their second 6-1 win in three games.

Game 6 back in Kansas City on Saturday night would become legendary—or infamous if you lived in St. Louis. Cox and Liebrandt staged a reprise of their Game 2 pitchers’ duel. The Royals missed an earlier opportunity when a Lonnie Smith double resulted in him reaching third with less than one out and Brett at the plate. But in a rare occurrence, Brett failed to come through in October, striking out. The Cards missed a chance in the sixth when Cox was unable to get a bunt down after the inning started with consecutive singles.

Not until the eighth did a run score and it was the Cardinals who broke through. With one out, Pendleton singled and Cedeno walked. With two outs, Brian Harper came up to pinch-hit and appeared to make himself a World Series hero with an RBI base hit that put St. Louis six outs from a championship.

Cardinal lefty Ken Dayley handled the eighth, and the righty Worrell came on for the ninth. Jorge Orta was at the plate to start the Royals’ final chance.

Orta hit a bouncer to Clark at first base. The ball was fielded cleanly, tossed to Worrell who beat Orta to the bag by a good couple steps. Don Denkinger called Orta safe. The Cardinals exploded, and rightly so. Replay clearly showed Orta was easily out. Denkinger later said he was watching Orta’s foot, while listening for the sound of the ball hitting Worrell’s glove—a common umpiring practice. But the crowd noise prevented him from hearing it.

Denkinger had committed a big blunder, but it also needs to be said, that from this point forward, the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals ceased to be a functioning baseball team. The next hitter, Steve Balboni, hit a harmless pop-up into foul territory. Clark completely misplayed it, and Balboni followed with a single.

Sundberg tried to bunt, but the Cards got the force out at third. Even now, if Worrell could simply get two outs, Denkinger would be forgotten. Instead, a passed ball ensued, moving both runners up. Dane Iorg came to the plate and singled to right, scoring both runs for a 2-1 win.

Game 7 should have been a baseball delight, as the aces, Tudor and Saberhagen matched up. But Tudor had nothing, and St. Louis was still furious over the Denkinger call. The game was perhaps the worst Game 7 ever played in any sport by any team.

Tudor was gone by the third, the Royals were up 5-0 and in the fifth inning the Cardinal meltdown went on full public display.
Kansas City hit six singles, a double and ripped through five St. Louis pitchers in scoring six more runs. One of them was Andujar who got upset at a ball-strike call, and exploded off the mound in a fury—not coincidentally, the home plate umpire was Denkinger. Andujar was suspended for the first ten games of 1986. The Royals won the game 11-0.

The St. Louis interpretation of the 1985 World Series is that if Denkinger makes the correct call, they close it out in Game 6. That’s reasonable—getting the leadoff man aboard in a one-run game isn’t exactly insignificant. But it also has to be said that the Cardinals completely lacked championship toughness in how they responded to the adversity.

Let’s say St. Louis lost because Orta was bunted up, a bloop single tied the game and Kansas City won in, say 11 innings. And then won a tough 4-3 game in Game 7. If that happens I’d be all for blaming the bad call, because you can’t overcome everything. But when you follow a bad call, by blowing a popup that a Little Leaguer would be embarrassed by, allowing a passed ball to move the winning run into scoring position and then completely melting down for a national audience the next night, you’ve demonstrated that your ability to handle adversity is not that of a champion.

Kansas City showed they could handle all the adversity. They had come from behind to win the AL West race, the ALCS and now the World Series. Saberhagen was Series MVP, for his two gems, one in Game 7 and the other a virtual must-win spot on the road in Game 3. That’s the right choice, with honorable mention also going to Brett (10-for-27), Balboni (8-for-25), and Wilson (11-for-30).

The two franchises went in completely opposite directions after this. St. Louis made it back to the World Series two years later and have become the model of a consistent organization in the years since. Kansas City spent nearly thirty years in the wilderness, never making the postseason and only rarely finishing above .500, before they made it back to the Fall Classic in 2014 and then won it in 2015. But the 1985 World Series belonged to the Royals.