SI Vault
William Leggett
October 19, 1970
It was the Series everybody wanted between baseball's two best teams, but the Orioles took something away from the script when they hit a little harder and pitched a little better to get away winging
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October 19, 1970

Flying Start For The Big Bad Birds

It was the Series everybody wanted between baseball's two best teams, but the Orioles took something away from the script when they hit a little harder and pitched a little better to get away winging

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Earl Weaver stood in the Baltimore clubhouse shortly after the second game of the World Series, and it was obvious that he was ready for the question: What is the difference between your team this year and last? "Nothing," rasped the manager of the Orioles. "Last year we won 109 games in the regular season, the playoffs in three games and won the first game of the Series and lost the second. This year we won 108 games during the season, again won the playoffs in three straight and have beaten the Reds in the first two games of the Series. Up to this point both years figure out to 113 wins."

Excellent addition. Fine answer. Except for one thing Weaver failed to mention. A year before, his World Series opponents had been touched with magic. Now the Orioles were playing mortals. A better team, perhaps, but mortal. And last Sunday evening, as the 1970 Series shifted to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Cincinnati's Big Red Machine was slightly red-faced and chugging. Never before had a team lost the first two games of a World Series on its home grounds and come back to win the championship.

Not that the Reds had much cause to be embarrassed. They had lost 4-3 and 6-5 to a team that in 1970 set an American League record by winning 40 one-run games and losing only 15. There was superb baseball and high emotion on both sides, brilliant fielding, long home runs and good pitching in tight spots. The crowds that packed into Riverfront Stadium were treated to the kind of baseball that is often promised but distressingly seldom seen when two such good teams meet.

In the days leading up to the Series the Reds showed how much they respected the Orioles. One afternoon, as he put on a T shirt with a Spiro Agnew watch printed on the front of it, Pete Rose said, "Heck, I'm so excited about playing these Big Bad Birds that I'd go out there naked."

Jim Merritt, Cincinnati's lone 20-game winner, said, "I think that the fans have their wish. They wanted to see the Big Red Machine go against the Orioles. Maybe this is the World Series that baseball should have had the last two or three years. The Orioles had good teams all along and we had fine hitting clubs that had some pitching problems. We should play each other. It's the best in the National League against the best in the American. That's the way things should be decided."

But any team that hopes to beat Baltimore has to be both good and lucky. Built along classical lines, the Orioles seldom make a mistake on defense; their pitching is exceptional; and they can hit. The Reds received tremendous publicity throughout 1970 for their ability to hit for high averages and to pound out home runs—yet the Orioles actually scored more runs and hit only 12 fewer homers. Frank Lane, Baltimore's superscout, said of his team, "Not one of our players will admit it openly, but they took the New York Mets too lightly last year."

Any such attitude they might have had toward Cincinnati this time around was almost immediately dispelled. The Reds climbed on Jim Palmer, the lone righthander in Baltimore's stable of 20-game winners, for three runs in the first three innings of the first game, and for a while it appeared that they might never stop. But it must be awfully comforting to pitch for the Baltimore Orioles, who look upon a three-run deficit as some kind of an appetizer.

In the fourth inning, immediately after Paul Blair had collected the first Oriole hit off Gary Nolan, Boog Powell leaned his 260 pounds against a slightly hanging curveball and deposited it over the left-field wall for two runs. Then, in the fifth, Elrod Hendricks hit one over the right-field wall. And then, in the seventh, Brooks Robinson hit one to left. So the Orioles won the ball game. That was about it, except for a couple of things.

In the bottom of the sixth Brooks Robinson made a spectacular play on lead-off hitter Lee May. Robinson had lunged across the third-base foul line to turn a sure double into what looked like a single. It then became even less. Without even looking, Robinson threw to first base and caught May for what turned out to be a vital out, because a walk, and a single followed. "When you play with Brooks," said Powell, "you just go to the bag and hold the glove out. He'll get the ball there, you always know that."

Harry Dalton, Baltimore's general manager, told Weaver after the game, "That's got to be one of the 10 best plays Brooks ever made, Earl." Weaver disagreed. "I'd put it in his top 100 plays." Then he corrected himself. "Those hundred," he said, "are only since I've been here."

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