Hall of Famer George Brett was swatting three home runs and leading his team back from an overwhelming deficit to the World Series. Blue Jays broadcaster and former Toronto catcher Buck Martinez could only watch because in July he had broken his leg tagging out two runners at the plate on the same play. Meanwhile, Kansas City reliever Kris Medlen was likely having his diaper changed.
“No, I was potty-trained from the get-go,” Medlen said with a laugh. “I came out ready to do things on my own. My parents were so proud.”
Medlen was born Oct. 7, 1985, the day before the ALCS series began, which, he says, “makes me very aware of how long it’s been.”
Thirty years, to be exact -- long enough that the majority of the players on the active rosters for this series had not yet been born when that 1985 series was played. Of the 50 players in this series, 23 were alive (12 Blue Jays and 11 Royals), while another six were in their mothers’ wombs. The oldest, LaTroy Hawkins, was 12 years old. Medlen was the youngest, at one day.
“If you polled all the Royals on the current roster and all the Blue Jays,” Brett said, “and asked them, ‘What happened the last time the Royals and the Blue Jays played in the postseason?' I bet they couldn’t come close to telling you the storyline of the series.”
That’s too bad. It was a compelling story, and one that lasted a then-unprecedented seven games. That’s because 1985 was the first time the LCS was best-of-seven rather than best-of-five. The Blue Jays came to regret that after they won three of the first four games, only to lose the remaining three. Oh, if only the ALCS had still been a best-of-five series!
“We had been bitching about it being best-of-five in the years before," Martinez said. "We thought the LCS should be best-of-seven. And sure enough, it ended up to be a benefit for Kansas City instead.”
Unlike the current series, the 1985 ALCS opened in Toronto, where the Blue Jays still played in their first home, Exhibition Stadium.
Mention that to current players, Brett said, and they’ll ask, “‘Exhibition Stadium? Was that the old baseball stadium?’ ‘No, it was a football stadium where the Argonauts played,’” Brett said with a laugh. “I flew out to the 35-yard-line one game. ‘Fly ball to right field. Chet Lemon to the 30-yard-line, to the 35, the 40 and he catches it at the 50!’”
Exhibition Stadium did not have a roof, either, and the first two games were interrupted by rain delays. But the Blue Jays won both, including Game 2, in which they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to win and take a 2-0 lead to Kansas City.
That's where the series turned around in Game 3, though it didn’t look like it would when the Blue Jays scored five runs in the fifth to take a 5-2 lead. But Brett kept his team alive. He went 4-for-4. He hit two home runs. He scored four runs. He drove in three. And he threw a runner out at the plate.
“Probably the best game I ever played in a meaningful situation,” Brett said. “You have better games in the regular season, but not when you’re down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series. If we don’t win that game, we’re down 0-3, and it’s not looking good.”
Martinez recalls then-Toronto manager Bobby Cox telling the Blue Jays, “‘We can’t let George Brett beat us.’ And Doyle Alexander made up his mind that he was going to get him out.”
Alexander didn’t come close. He gave up two home runs to Brett that game (plus another in Game 6).
“And they were back in the series," Martinez said.
Still, Toronto won Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead and put the Royals on the edge of elimination, only to have them come back and win the final three games. Kansas City blew open the final game when Jim Sundberg hit a bases-loaded triple off the wall to put his team up 6-1 in the sixth.
“I talked to Stieb about it this year, and he still feels like he let his team down,” Martinez said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, you gave up 11 hits in 20 1/3 innings the whole series. You can’t pitch any better than that.’”
The Royals went on to win the I-70 World Series against the Cardinals, while the Blue Jays won the 1992 and 1993 World Series. Each team endured a lengthy postseason drought afterward; Kansas City went 29 years before returning in 2014, while Toronto went 22 years before winning the AL East this season.
Now here they are in the midst of another ALCS, with Kansas City winning the first two at home. But as the Royals showed in 1985 (and both teams showed in their 2015 ALDS rallies), it ain’t over until it’s over.
As Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said, that ’85 series demonstrated that, “Anything can happen.”