KANSAS CITY — They passed in the tunnel. Charlie Leibrandt was being shuffled out to the field by a horde of interviewers. Dane Iorg was being shuffled back in by a horde of interviewers. They saw one another and leaped above the throngs of microphones to slap their hands in a high five.
“Hey, Charlie!” Iorg yelled over the din of cheers still echoing outside, tribute to the most dramatic ninth inning the World Series has seen in years.
“I knew we would win, man! We couldn’t let you lose another heartbreaker. No way!”
Leibrandt smiled and started to say something, but they were already too far apart. He looked back over his shoulder, then turned forward. No matter. There’ll be plenty of time for words. What could he say, anyhow? “Thanks?” Too small. “Thanks a million?” Too small. For with one broken-bat pinch-hit swing, Iorg had exorcised the demons that had haunted Leibrandt and the Royals since Game 2 of this Series, when the Cardinals’ bats stabbed them in the heart in the ninth inning.
Finally, finally, Kansas City got the break. Finally, finally, this thing is going to where it should be decided — a seventh game with the two best pitchers available squaring off.
Finally, finally. Leibrandt a hard-luck Charlie
Let’s follow Leibrandt for a second. He was ushered back out to the field to do a radio interview, but the electric-blue crowd behind the Royals’ dugout simply refused to leave and refused to shut up. They chanted,
“CHAR-LIE! CHAR-LIE!” — much the way the St. Louis crowd had chanted Ozzie Smith’s name not long ago.
But turnabout is certainly fair play in the case of one Charlie Leibrandt. Remember that he was the pitcher who was one out away from a victory in Game 2 when the sky fell in. And the worst part was that that wasn’t the first time. Leibrandt had lost four straight post-season games in which the Royals scored a whopping total of four runs for him. How much better did he have to pitch? Perfectly? “OK,” he seemed to say. “I’ll be perfect.” He was perfect for five innings Saturday night. But the Royals scored zero runs.
And he left the game in the eighth having surrendered one run — one stinking run — and it looked as if he would lose again. Royals Stadium was near tears.
But then came the ninth.
The entire crowd was on its feet, chanting, screaming, going dizzy. The Royals’ fans were three outs away from going home for the winter, and if there were any way a crowd could figure in a win, they were going to. Trailing 1-0, the Royals sent up Jorge Orta to pinch-hit for Pat Sheridan. He reached base on an infield hit. Next came Steve Balboni — the man they’d been laughing at across America. Where was his bat? Bye-Bye? Ha, ha. But he singled and the night air was one unending roar. One out later, a passed ball moved the runners to second and third, Hal McRae was intentionally walked, and — shake the mountains and wake up the gods — we had the situation that every sandlot kid with a $3 glove dreams about.
Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth. We need a pinch hitter, kid. Go and do it. Iorg wasn’t even nervous
“I knew it was going to be me,” Iorg said. “I looked down the bench, and I was the only guy left there.
“I’d been dreaming of that situation forever. I wasn’t even nervous. I just went up there and knew what I had to do.”
He swung. The ball lifted toward right field — “I knew it was a base hit as soon as I connected,” Iorg said — and he watched as one Royal then, yes, yes . . . two Royals came streaking home. The throw came in to try to catch the second runner. “SAFE!” The umpire screamed, but all anyone could see was the hand signal, and then the place exploded.
They had won! Finally, finally, and Leibrandt must have felt like the weight of the world was off his shoulders. The entire team poured out of the dugout and celebrated in a joyous heap on the infield.
“It’s the greatest feeling,” Leibrandt said.
“It feels unbelievable,” said Iorg, whose nose was bloody from a teammate’s overly joyous squeeze. “Maybe this evens us up for what happened last Sunday.”
Maybe it does. Revenge is a dish best served cold, the sages say, and the Royals had six days to let theirs chill. All St. Louis could do was swallow this time.
We’re going to Game 7. Tonight. The high five in tunnel had proved it.