THE VACUUM MEETS NEW YORK'S TEAM OF DESTINY
Shortly before the start of the World Series last Saturday afternoon Donn Clendenon of the New York Mets introduced one of his teammates, rookie Outfielder Rod Gaspar, to an old friend, Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles. It was a historic meeting. Five days earlier Robinson had stepped onto a folding chair, squirted a spray of champagne to attract attention and announced to the Orioles, "Ron Gaspar just said on television that the Mets will sweep the Birds in four games. Bring on Ron Gaspar, whoever the hell he is. Quiet! I'm told that his name is Rod Gaspar. Bring on Rod Gaspar, whoever the hell he is." Now, thanks to Clendenon, Frank Robinson knows who Rod Gaspar is.
Clendenon neglected to introduce Gaspar to Baltimore's other Robinson, so Brooks introduced himself a bit later, rather rudely, too. It happened in the top half of the seventh inning (see cover), as the Orioles were leading the Mets 4-1. The Mets had just scored their run and had men at first and second with two out. Gaspar, pinch-hitting, faced Mike Cuellar, who had already thrown more than 100 pitches and seemed to be tiring rapidly.
Gaspar topped a ball toward third base. Cuellar took one look at what was obviously one of those stinking, scratch infield hits and grimaced. This, he knew, would load the bases and send him to an early shower. Gaspar, too, heading for first base, knew that he had a hit. But Brooks Robinson, as usual playing a shallow third base—shallower than most other third basemen ever dare, particularly in a situation like this with two outs and a force play at all bases—was not that convinced. He charged the ball.
"When I go after a ball," he said, "I always think I can get the out." Moving in quickly, he reached down for the ball just as it stopped on the grass. "The trick here is to have your left foot ahead of your right foot when you bend for the ball," he said. "Otherwise you come up off balance and throw the ball away. A lot of third basemen do that."
Not Robinson. In one motion he stabbed the ball, raised his right arm high and fired an overhand strike to First Baseman Boog Powell. The play, amazingly, was not even close. Gaspar, who is not all that slow, was out by two steps.
"That wouldn't have happened to me," Clendenon said after the Mets' 4-1 defeat. "I'm not hitting the ball to Robinson in this Series. He's the vacuum cleaner, don't you know that? I'm hitting it out toward center. Like I did today. Got two hits that way. You don't get any hits going toward third base."
On Sunday it was Brooks Robinson challenging the Mets once again. Early in the game, he made a video tape replay of his Gaspar spectacular and threw out Jerry Grote. Obviously that play told the Mets they needed a better game plan, Clendenon's, for instance, for they hit only one more ball to Robinson the rest of the day. On that occasion Robinson cut in front of Shortstop Mark Belanger to throw out Bud Harrelson—making a difficult play look routine. In the fourth inning Clendenon hit a home run over the right-field wall—at least 310 feet away from Robinson at third base. It started Jerry Koosman to a 2-1 victory that sent the Series to New York tied at one game apiece.
Koosman skillfully protected the lead as he pitched no-hit baseball until Paul Blair led off the Oriole seventh with a single into left field. With two outs and Brooks at bat, Blair stole second—setting up the potential tying run. Brooks immediately delivered Blair with a single into center field. "I remembered Koosman from the All-Star Game this year," Brooks said. "He struck me out then on three pitches. I didn't want that to happen again."
The Met who really killed the Orioles on Sunday, though, was not Koosman but another one of Frank Robinson's old friends. In the summer of 1967 Frank slid hard into second base one night as he tried to break up a double play in a game against the Chicago White Sox. He crashed into Al Weis, who was making the pivot, and both players rolled painfully on the ground. Weis ruined his knee and did not play for the rest of the year. He says now that the injury persuaded the White Sox to trade him to the Mets that winter, a trade that hardly sent him into ecstasy. He had just bought a home in Chicago, for one thing, and, of course, the Mets were the Mets. Frank Robinson developed double vision and it was not until almost a year later that he began to hit the baseball again as he once had.