Path to the ALCS: Kansas City (91-71) won the AL West by one game; Toronto (99-62) won the AL East by two games
Bobby Cox would go on to manage 15 division champions, and this would be the first of them (the other 14 would come with Atlanta). It was a breakout year for his Blue Jays, a 1977 expansion team. The Royals, meanwhile, were trying to get back to a World Series, where they had fallen to the Phillies in '80.
This was the first year that the LCS was expanded to a best-of-seven format like the World Series, and these two teams made the most by taking it to seven. The extended format was especially important to the Royals, because the Blue Jays had a 3-1 series lead -- enough in prior years for a pennant. Kansas City won the last three, becoming the first team in ALCS history to come back from a 3-1 deficit. That would be an ALCS benchmark for years, until the 2004 Red Sox came back from a 3-0 hole.
George Brett led Kansas City in the series as MVP by going 8-for-23 with two doubles, three homers, five RBIs, seven walks and a .348 average. But the big hit in the series came in Game 7 from Royals catcher Jim Sundberg, who hit a bases-loaded triple to chase a tiring Dave Stieb in the top of the sixth inning at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. Cox had instructed Stieb to walk slugger Steve Balboni to get to Sundberg, but the move backfired as Sundberg's hit pushed the Kansas City lead from 2-1 to 5-1, and he scored after that for the Royals' final run in their pennant clincher.
After an unprecedented LCS requirement of seven games, the Royals would have to do it again to ultimately win their first World Series title. A neighbor across I-70 in Missouri awaited them.