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  World Series Archive

 
WORLD SERIES:
1979

Rising from the Ashes

Down 3-1 in the World Series, fired-up Pittsburgh burned Baltimore in seven

by Ron Fimrite

Issue date: October 29, 1979

  October 29, 1979 cover
(James Drake)
Baltimore Rightfielder Ken Singleton had backed up as far as possible in his futile pursuit of the soaring fly hit by Willie Stargell, and as it passed overhead he made a last desperate leap. But the ball and the Orioles' salvation were beyond reach, and Singleton was left there, hanging onto the fence for an instant in an attitude of despair. It was one of those frozen moments that occur so often in sports events as compelling as the World Series, moments when a single player can portray in a gesture the event itself—Carlton Fisk anxiously twisting his body as he watched his homer twist ever so close to the Fenway Park foul pole in 1975, Yogi Berra caught up in Don Larsen's arms in 1956. And so Singleton hanging there forlornly on the fence in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium embodied all that had happened to his team, because this was a Series that got away from the Orioles as surely as Stargell's homer eluded their rightfielder.

Leading three games to one with two of the three possible remaining games to be played at home and with their ace starters, Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer and Scott McGregor, reasonably rested and ready, the Orioles contrived to lose three in a row to a Pittsburgh team that came dramatically to life after a fumble-fingered start in the Series. In truth, the Pirates won the world championship more than the Orioles lost it, beating Baltimore's best pitchers and holding its hitters to only two runs in the final three games. The Pirates triumphed because of the superiority of their bats and their bullpen, and the Orioles, who thrive on the long ball, came up short when they most needed runs. Because this was a Series in which designated hitters were disallowed, the Orioles, who are accustomed to having a DH, were at something of a disadvantage. Their regular designated hitter, Lee May, had himself been in a dreadful power slump—only two homers in his last 40 games—so it is difficult to determine how deeply his loss was felt. Nonetheless the DH rule did have a telling—if indirect—effect on the outcome because relief pitching is stressed more in the DH-less National League, and the Pirates' superiority in the bullpen was a significant factor.

But none of this was immediately apparent when the two teams headed back to Baltimore for Game 6. The Maryland weather, which had been arctic the week before, had turned positively balmy. Temperatures were in the 60s when the teams took to the Memorial Stadium turf on Tuesday, with John Candelaria opposing the formidable Palmer. Candelaria, who was pitching with a sore rib cage, survived six scoreless innings before handing the ball over to Kent Tekulve, the scarecrow of the bullpen.

The Pirates could only scare up four unimportant hits off Palmer's crackling fastball and assorted breaking pitches through the first six innings. Then, with one out in the seventh, Pittsburgh's Omar Moreno singled to right and Tim Foli hit a bouncer up the middle that Palmer barely ticked with his glove. Shortstop Kiko Garcia was virtually standing on second base when the deflected ball reached him. Distracted perhaps by the incoming Moreno, he attempted to start a double play by fielding the ball on a difficult hop, but he lost it. It was scored as a hit. Garcia was in the game because Oriole Manager Earl Weaver had opted for offense in the concluding games of the Series, and Garcia had had six hits to that point, compared with none for Mark Belanger, the veteran defensive genius. Garcia did get a single this night, but his possibly forgivable misplay of Foli's double-play ball had dire consequences. Dave Parker, the next hitter, launched a hard shot that "knuckled" away from Second Baseman Rich Dauer for another tainted hit. Moreno scored and Foli advanced to third. Foli then came home on Stargell's sacrifice fly to left. The Pirates scored two superfluous runs in the eighth, making the score 4-0, and Tekulve's maddening sidearm sinkers kept the Orioles in check the rest of the night. So the Series was even at 3-3.

Baltimore did at least score in the seventh and deciding game—on Dauer's line-drive homer off Jim Bibby in the third. Then in the sixth, Stargell's two-run homer left Singleton hanging on the fence, and the World Series was, for all practical purposes, over. Stargell had been badly fooled by McGregor's off-speed pitches in two previous times at bat, but he was having such a splendid Series that he got hits both times, a bloop single in the second and a bloop double in the fourth, both to leftfield. "That gentleman," said the gentlemanly Stargell of McGregor, "is one of the best pitchers in baseball. His ball was riding in on me, and I was leaning over the plate too much, tying myself up." He consulted Pirate batting coach Bob Skinner between his second and third at bats and was advised to stop hitting so much off his back foot and to be more patient against McGregor, who throws slow stuff. It proved to be sound counsel. Besides the homer, Stargell hit yet another double, in the eighth, wound up 4 for 5 for the evening, set a record for extra-base hits in a Series (four doubles, three homers) and nailed down the Series' Most Valuable Player award.

The Pirates added a conventional run in the ninth on Phil Garner's double and Moreno's single and an unconventional one when, on successive pitches, Parker was hit by Tippy Martinez and, with the bases loaded, Bill Robinson was hit by Dennis Martinez. Tekulve put the Orioles to rest in their half of the ninth to ensure the 4-1 win.

The Pirates had brutalized the supposedly superior Oriole pitching for 81 hits in the seven games. Stargell and Garner each had 12, and Moreno, whose slow—1 for 10—start hampered the team and earned him the appellation "Omar the Outmaker," finished with 11, while Parker and Foli had 10 apiece. The Pirates' batting average of .323 was the highest for a winning team in a seven-game Series, and it was nearly 100 percentage points more than the Orioles' anemic .232. Strangely, the speedy Pirates, who stole 180 bases during the regular season, swiped none in the Series, which, of course, ties another record. It will be listed in the books opposite the Pirates' name, but it really should be attributed to the strong arm and alert play of the Baltimore catcher, Rick Dempsey.

The Orioles got sorry production out of the bellwethers of their attack. Eddie Murray, who was on base seven of his first eight times at bat, was hitless in his last 21. Al Bumbry, the leadoff hitter, reached first only five times and hit an unintimidating .143. Gary Roenicke, the big righthanded hitter who was expected to neutralize Pirate Lefthanders Candelaria and Jim Rooker, was 2 for 16. And though Singleton batted .357, nine of his hits were singles, and he drove in only two runs.

Stargell, a towel draped around his neck and a bottle of Robert Mondavi 1977 Chardonnay clutched in his hand, was gracious in the press conference after Game 7. He felt compelled, however, to fend off some of the ribbing his team had been receiving in Baltimore for folksily referring to itself as a "family." One local columnist researched the matter and revealed that not one Pirate was related to another. "We're not trying to be sassy or fancy," Stargell said in a quiet voice. "But we depended on each of the 25 men. There was a closeness. We worked hard, and we scratched and clawed together. We're a very loose ball club and we work like hell...."

At this point a member of Stargell's actual family, his sister, Sandra, rushed up and embraced him. When she released him after some whispered intimacies, he was mopping tears from his face with the towel. "We go out to have fun," he continued, weeping still. "You have only a few years to play this game, and you can't go out and do it when you're tied up. You come into the game without ulcers and you should go out without ulcers. I'm 38—39 in March. When I'm not willing to go to war every day, I'll step aside and let some youngster take over. Right now I'm one very proud individual."

Family matters aside, it was the Pirates' ability to hang loose when the situation seemed so desperate that enabled them to become only the fourth team to win the Series after losing three of the first four games. Manager Chuck Tanner, a resolutely cheerful man, may be principally responsible for this attitude. Despite the win, it had not been an enjoyable week for him. His mother had died the morning of the fifth game, and he would return to Pittsburgh for her funeral after the seventh game. But he did not lose his composure, nor did his team.

"Every club he has ever managed has been like this," said Roland Hemond, a Chicago White Sox vice-president who is a friend of Tanner's, as well as a former employer. Hemond had come into the Pirates' relatively subdued clubhouse to offer congratulations to the winning manager even though he represented the other league. He found it hard to stint in his praise. "Some clubs are happy only after they win," he said. "Chuck's are happy on dog days or whatever. And running? He can make a slow club look fast. I tell you, he's revolutionized the game without anybody really knowing it."

They're getting the message.

 


 
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