National Baseball Hall of Fame Library

October 6, 1978: Munson, Yankees outslug Royals in Game 3

This article was written by Ed Gruver

National Baseball Hall of Fame LibraryAmerican League umpire Ron Luciano relished pulse-quickening pitcher-batter confrontations. It was when working behind home plate in those moments that Luciano wished he didn’t have to call balls and strikes, preferring instead to savor the situation.1

The beginning of Game Three of the 1978 American League Championship Series in Yankee Stadium provided such a confrontation between two future Hall of Famers. George Brett was leading off for the Western Division champion Kansas City Royals. Jim “Catfish” Hunter was on the mound for the Eastern Division champs, the New York Yankees. An audience of 55,445 was filling up the big ballpark in the Bronx for the 3:35 P.M. start.

Brett, in the Royals’ powder-blue road uniform, settled into the batter’s box. Luciano knew the routine of Kansas City’s left-handed hitter. Brett would take “three or four easy practice swings, then stiffen his shoulders, cock his bat and glare out at the pitcher.”2

Luciano considered Hunter the finest control pitcher he’d ever seen: “He was so good he could pick the sprinkles off an ice cream cone from the pitcher’s mound.”3

Luciano had been a big-league umpire since 1970 and had worked many of Hunter’s games when Catfish wore the gaudy green, gold, and white of the Oakland A’s dynasty and then the classic pinstripes of the Yankees after becoming baseball’s first free agent on December 31, 1975.4

Luciano was aware that Hunter would throw his first pitch over the outside black edge of the plate. If Luciano called it a strike, the Cat would aim his next offering another inch outside. “If he got that one,” Luciano said, “he’d go out another five-eighths of an inch, always moving just a hair further outside.”5

Luciano thought Hunter tended at times to get lazy with his fastball and give up home runs. But not just ordinary home runs. “Majestic home runs,” said Luciano. “Mammoth shots. Launchings that would have made a space-director happy.”6

Three pitches into the game, Brett launched a deep drive into right field. On the Yankees’ television station, WPIX Channel 11, announcer and former Yankees great Phil Rizzuto knew the ball was gone. “It is way in the upper deck!”7

Of the 16 homers Hunter surrendered during the 1978 regular season, 10 had come in the first two innings.

Hunter’s pitch was in the middle of the plate. Baltimore Orioles ace Jim Palmer provided the color analysis on ABC-TV and said that if Catfish didn’t locate the ball where he wanted to, he would not win.

“He doesn’t throw like he used to,” Palmer said of the 32-year-old Hunter. “Not many people do when you’ve thrown 3,300 innings like he has.”8

Hunter started the 1978 season with a sore right shoulder and was on the disabled list twice. He helped fuel the Yankees’ stirring comeback by winning nine of his 11 decisions. He pitched poorly in the regular-season finale against Cleveland but had worked on three days’ rest rather than his customary four. Still, Hunter was a proven big-game player, having earned eight postseason victories.

“A money pitcher,” said Palmer. “Couldn’t think of a better pitcher to have out there if you needed to win a big game.”9

New York needed to win this big game, the best-of-five series being tied 1-1. Hunter escaped further damage in the first inning and longtime teammate Reggie Jackson tied the game when he led off the bottom of the second with a home run off Paul Splittorff. The Royals’ southpaw had pitched well against the Yankees in past playoffs, going a combined 2-0 in the 1976 and 1977 ALCS. He was 0-2 against New York in the ’78 regular season, but he was a 19-game winner who had won eight of his last 12 decisions entering the postseason.

Palmer informed viewers that Splittorf changed speeds on his pitches and had a good fastball, curve, and slider. Splittorf’s 3-and-1 delivery found the middle of the plate, however, and Jackson ripped a high drive into the right-field seats. On WPIX, Rizzuto issued his patented “Holy Cow!” and called Jackson “unbelievable” in the month of October. 10

The Royals regained the lead in the top of the third, Brett scraping the sky with his second solo homer, a 400-foot-plus blast to right-center field. The Yankees tied it again in the next inning, Jackson scoring Thurman Munson from second base with a single to center field. An error on Lou Piniella’s single sent Jackson home with New York’s first lead at 3-2. Piniella sought to score on a fly to left by Graig Nettles but was ruled out at home plate on a controversial call by Luciano. Piniella put forth a passionate argument, which didn’t surprise Luciano.

“Piniella,” he said, “only argues on days ending in ‘y.’”11

When the Yankees took the field in the next inning, Luciano said, Munson told him, “You really screwed up that time. … Don’t worry. I’ll get you off the hook.”12

The Royals tied it again in the fifth, Brett leading off with his third homer of the game to right field, equaling the LCS record set by Pittsburgh first baseman Bob Robertson against San Francisco in Game Two of the 1971 NLCS. Hunter said later that while Brett’s feat was noteworthy, it typified his style of pitching: “three dingers with nobody on base, no other runs.”13

Reggie Jackson agreed. “Cat will do that. He’ll give up homers with no one on.”14

Watching from the Yankees dugout, southpaw ace Ron Guidry knew age and injuries had robbed Hunter of some of the velocity on his pitches. Still, Guidry marveled at the Cat’s guile and grit.

“There was a time nobody could match his pitching arsenal,” Guidry said. “Even in his later years, with diminishing stuff, he could get guys out because he was so dang smart on the mound and knew how to work hitters. Pitchers like me could learn a lot just by watching him pitch.”15

Kansas City manager Whitey Herzog agreed and considered Hunter a mound master in the mold of Yankees great Whitey Ford.16

Jackson’s sacrifice fly to center field in the sixth scored Roy White to reclaim the lead. Guidry believed Game Three had become a battle between two greats – Brett and Jackson. Each time Brett gave KC the lead in odd-numbered innings, Jackson retaliated in even-numbered innings.17

Hunter left after six innings owning a 4-3 lead and was replaced by reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage. KC came back in the eighth to tie the game for the fourth time. Amos Otis led off with a double and scored on a single to left by Darrell Porter. The Royals retook the lead when a single by Clint Hurdle sent Porter to third and Al Cowens scored him on a groundout.

Back came the Yankees in the bottom of the inning, White lining a one-out single to center. The right-handed-hitting Munson had doubled and singled in his two previous at-bats against Splittorf, so Herzog summoned righty reliever Doug Bird.

Injuries limited Munson’s power production in 1978; he hit just six homers in the regular season. But he was the Yankees’ first captain since Lou Gehrig for a reason, and Guidry felt the reason was that Munson was a man who led by example: “He led by playing damn near every game even when he was aching. He led by demanding excellence not just from himself but from the 24 other guys in the clubhouse.”18

Leading by example, Munson muscled a high, 2-and-0 fastball over the left-center-field wall and into Monument Park to put New York back in front, 6-5. Varying estimates put Munson’s homer at 410 to 440 feet. “Crushed it,” Keith Jackson said on ABC-TV.19

Reggie Jackson called it “the shot that decided the ball game.” When Munson crossed home plate he growled at Luciano, “Pulled your ass out of the fire.”20

Luciano recalled Munson grinning and issuing a sarcastic “You’re welcome.” Luciano responded by telling Thurman, “Lucky shot.”21

It was Munson’s first homer in 52 games, and the roar of the crowd caused Yankees broadcaster Bill White to exclaim, “Thurm Munson coming through in the clutch!”22

Guidry agreed: “In big spots, [Munson] did what winners do, and what no creaky knees could stop him from doing.”23

“Last year I came in and struck him out,” said Bird. “Things didn’t work out so well this time.”24

Herzog lamented the Royals’ having to relive their recent past of playoff failures against the Yankees. “What it came down to was the same old thing – we couldn’t get their big hitters out when we had to with the game on the line.”25

Gossage retired the Royals in order in the ninth inning, the Goose’s fiery fastballs providing the final flourish in a classic contest.



Along with sources cited in the Notes,, and were consulted by the author for additional information on players and teams.

Photo credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.



1 Ron Luciano and David Fisher, The Umpire Strikes Back (New York: Bantam Books, New York, 1982), 132.

2 Luciano, 225.

3 Luciano, 114.


5 Luciano, 114.

6 Luciano, 114.

7 WPIX television broadcast, October 6, 1978.

8 ABC television broadcast, October 6, 1978.

9 ABC television broadcast, October 6, 1978.

10 WPIX television broadcast, October 6, 1978.

11 Luciano, The Umpire Strikes Back, 134.

12 Luciano, 103

13 Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Armen Keteyian, My Life in Baseball (New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1988), 194.

14 Reggie Jackson with Bill Libby, Reggie (Chicago: Playboy Press, 1975), 208.

15 Ron Guidry with Andrew Beaton, Gator: My Life in Pinstripes (New York: Crown Archetype, 2018), 110.

16 Guidry, 110.

17 Guidry, 120.

18 Guidry, 120.

19 ABC television broadcast, October 6, 1978.

20 Reggie Jackson and Kevin Baker, Becoming Mr. October (New York: Doubleday, 2013), 277.

21 Luciano, 104.

22 WPIX television broadcast, October 6, 1978.

23 Guidry, 120.

24 Mike DeArmond, “Brett: We’re Not Out of It Yet,” Kansas City Times, October 7, 1978: 1D.

25 Del Black, “Yankees Force Royals to Relive Past,” Kansas City Times,” October 7, 1978: 1D.

Additional Stats

New York Yankees 6
Kansas City Royals 5
Game 3, ALCS

Yankee Stadium
New York, NY


Box Score + PBP:

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