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It should also be mentioned that Palmer gave the Reds only two hits after the first inning. "I thought I had bad stuff," he said, "but now that I think about it, maybe the Reds are such good hitters that they make you think you have bad stuff when you don't." Palmer began his day by almost missing the team bus; his watch was five minutes off. "It's the kind of a watch you get when you lose a World Series to the New York Mets," he said.
And, finally, that first game produced one of the sillier World Series plays of all time. It came about because Plate Umpire Ken Burkhart apparently forgot there was a runner on third, or else he thought the Reds' Bernie Carbo wouldn't possibly try to come home on a high bouncing ball in front of the plate. But home Carbo came. Burkhart was down on his knees with his back to the play and Hendricks was tagging out Burkhart with the ball in his right hand and tagging out Carbo without the ball in the mitt on his left. "Out," signaled Burkhart, now on the seat of his pants—and out of the dugout came Reds Manager Sparky Anderson and, later, out came a bouquet of towels. Since Carbo also missed the plate on his slide, it was very difficult to decide who was really right or wrong. The only sure thing is that Burkhart, despite a Big Red Face, was not about to change his call. It was all very unfortunate for the Reds, who saw a potentially big inning die and, in the next inning, their game die, too, when Brooks sent his deciding homer over the left-field wall.
On Sunday the Orioles used almost the same formula: with Mike Cuellar pitching (the Reds just love to assault 20-game winners) they fell behind by four runs through three innings. Two of the Cincinnati scores came on home runs by Johnny Bench and Bobby Tolan. But then the Orioles uncaged Powell, who homered to deepest center in the fourth, and in the fifth they batted around, driving Jim McGlothlin from the game. Blair drove in a run, Powell drove in another run, Brooks drove in a run and then Hendricks hit a two-run double. When Dick Hall, a 40-year-old relief pitcher whose style is reminiscent of a giraffe on roller skates, came on to strangle the last seven Reds without a hit, the World Series was 2-0. The Orioles had just won their 16th straight, through the end of the regular season, the playoffs and the two Series games, a streak that went back almost to the Mets.
This was obviously the sort of thing that caught the city of Cincinnati poorly prepared. With their Reds out of first place only one day all season long, the burghers had been getting ready for a more enjoyable kind of World Series almost since Opening Day in April. By last week just about everyone and everything this side of the Ohio River seemed to have Big Red Machine blazoned across his front or bumper. Riverfront Stadium was filled with people wearing red hats and dresses and in right field a banner read "The Rose Garden." In left a group that calls itself "Bench's Bunch" cheered every move of the young catcher, who at 22 has become a kind of Paul Bunyan in shin guards.
The Cincinnati fans had some reason to be confident. Not only had their Reds emasculated the National League West, they had left what appeared to be a pretty good Pittsburgh team for dead by sweeping three straight playoff games. True, the Big Red Machine hit only .220 against the Pirates, causing some consternation, but its pitchers came through with a 0.96 performance in the earned run category, and they seemed to be ready for Baltimore.
Of course, when one is traveling around between the Ohio and the Monongahela, one is apt to overlook what is happening on the Mississippi and down in Chesapeake Bay. And what was happening was that the Orioles were also winning three straight playoff games, running up scores against the Minnesota Twins that looked like Notre Dame had just come to town.
So, as Jim Merritt said, the two best teams in baseball got together. What then happened, while about as convincing as two one-run victories can be, could hardly be called a rout. But after Sunday night, the Big Red Machine's magic number was miracle.