By Barry Federovitch
For the Chris Murray Report
The most natural inclination when the Kansas City Royals stunned the Baltimore Orioles in four straight to sweep the 2014 American League Championship Series was to draw comparisons to the 1969 Mets.
Inferior team wins. Said team catches lightning in a bottle, fueled by a bevy of incredible defensive plays. And yet it’s important to remember several pieces of data in the comparison beginning with the realization that the Mets didn’t sweep that series. The Orioles won Game 1 and one of the great what-ifs in baseball history is what might have happened had Baltimore won just one of the four games the Mets juggernaut snagged that week.
Would the Orioles, with Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar slated to go in games 6 and 7 at home, won the series in seven? Or would the Mets have won anyway with more magic from players like Tommie Agee, Donn Clendenon or Al Weis?
To that question we will never know the answer. But as remarkable as that week was, it wasn’t the standard for postseason sweeps, which ironically happened exactly 100 years ago. Since then we’ve had a bevy of great lightning-in-the-bottle stories this time of year and the 2014 Royals may not even rank near the top.
1914 Boston Braves: Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s were a dynasty, fueled by great pitching and their $100,000 infield (yeah, that was a long time ago). They were heavy favorites against the Boston Braves, whose manager George ‘’Tweedy’’ Stallings is best remembered for wearing out the seat of his suit pants on the bench. The Braves were in last place on the Fourth of July and then proceeded to go 60-16 to not only win their first pennant, but do so in double digits.
That should have been a warning to pundits of a potential upset, but both the A’s and experts were stunned over four days as Hank Gowdy (an underrated catcher whose career lasted until 1930) hit .545.
1966 Orioles: Once upon a time the Orioles were on the other side of an incredible four-game sweep. This is often forgotten in history since Baltimore went on to win three pennants and another world title only a few years later with much of the same cast. But understand the rep of the 1966 Dodgers: led by 27-game winner Sandy Koufax, the Dodgers were defending champs and had won their third pennant in four years. The Orioles were making their first postseason appearance. But paced by Moe Drabowsky’s amazing relief performance in Game 1, the Dodgers’ offense was shut down, never to reawaken in the most stunning display of four-game pitching in World Series history.
1980 Kansas City Royals: The 1980 Yankees won more regular-season games (103) than either the 1977 or 1978 teams that won it all. Both teams defeated the Royals en route to the crown and the Bombers had a run going of three consecutive postseason series victories over KC. So this was the ultimate grudge match. With homefield advantage, the Yanks were leading at home in Game 3 until George Brett’s long homer off Goose Gossage cemented the three-game sweep.
The 1990 Cincinnati Reds: Lest we forget. The 1988-1990 A’s were very close to being recognized as one of the great dynasties of the last 30 years. But they ran into a hot Dodger team in 1988 and even hotter Cincinnati team two years later. Reds pitchers held the Bash Brothers to only eight runs in four games, but the MVP was Billy Hatcher, whose .750 mark represents one of the great short-series hot streaks in postseason history.
2014 Royals: KC trailed 7-3 late in the wild-card playoff before stunning Oakland. Since that point, they have hardly trailed in their first postseason appearance in 29 years. They wiped out a veteran Angels team, but the nature of their four-game sweep over the Orioles was invigorating and incredible: Baltimore hit well in two games (games 1 and 2), but not enough.
Then it pitched well in the next two, but again it wasn’t enough as the Royals won two games by two runs and two others by one each. Lorenzo Cain was the Royals series MVP, but collectively KC played perhaps the best series defense since the 1969 Mets, using several diving or unlikely catches to shut down every potential Baltimore rally. Can the Royals sustain this momentum into the World Series? A national bandwagon of underdog lovers await in what is becoming one of the great October sagas in recent years.