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Andy Etchebarren was sitting in the Baltimore dugout before the fifth and final game of the 1970 World Series, his eyes transfixed by the strange patterns created by raindrops falling on a heavy green tarpaulin covering the infield. Brooks Robinson sat down beside him and tapped him on the knee.
"Feeling O.K., Andy?" asked Robinson.
Etchebarren smiled. "Brooksie," he said, "make it stop raining."
"Thanks," Robinson said, "but I'm not going that good."
Maybe not, but as the cold winds moved up Chesapeake Bay, a warning of Halloween just around the corner, there were those in Baltimore who swore they could feel the swooping presence of some great hobgoblin in an orange and black uniform with the number 5 on its back moving about the countryside. It had a very high forehead and a smile on its face and it was beating the bejeezus out of everything in sight with a 33-ounce bat. And what escaped, it caught with its glove.
Well, maybe not everyone in Baltimore had this vision, but that is almost surely the way the Cincinnati Reds are going to see the whole horrible thing in their nightmare this winter. A fine baseball team that had the misfortune to run into the Orioles—and Brooks Robinson—in this Series, the Reds will swear they were the victims of witches and warlocks. And maybe they were. Somebody stopped the rain. Against this kind of magic, even a group of such superlative hitters as the Reds could only hope to survive; they were a part of as fine a five-game Series as baseball could have hoped for—but they never seemed to be in any danger of winning it. When the torture was over, Johnny Bench said, "I hope we can come back and play the Orioles next year. I also hope Brooks Robinson has retired by then."
Sixteen times the Reds smashed hard line drives into the infield or deep into the outfield only to see an Oriole, usually Robinson, make an impossible play and stuff a sure hit into his glove. If somehow they had become disoriented enough to believe that this was last year and that they were the Orioles playing the New York Mets in 1969, they could have been forgiven. For the Reds, bad luck never seemed to take a holiday.
There were all sorts of cases in point, but take what happened in the second game, which Baltimore won 6-5. It ended when Oriole Centerfielder Paul Blair raced to the wall in deep center to catch what looked like at least a triple off the bat of pinch hitter Jimmy Stewart. In game No. 3 Baltimore made the lesson stick. The Reds got their first two runners on, and then Tony Perez hit a screamer into a double play—started by Robinson. Bench followed with a brutal liner—at Robinson. The great revival died. Final score: 9-3.
If the defeats depressed the Reds, they exhilarated the Orioles, who needed some sort of vindication after the flop against the Mets. They also showed why the Orioles are considered the liveliest team in the major leagues today. Granted, the American League is not as strong as the National, nor does it have the depth of competition or the caliber and quantity of stars. Still, as can be seen by merely watching them play, the Orioles are an exception, a 1970 team undiluted by expansion. They have managed to retain their excellent pitching, especially in the persons of 20-game winners Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Jim Palmer, and four Golden Glove winners at critical defensive positions, Robinson at third, Mark Belanger at shortstop, Dave Johnson at second and Blair in center. And then of course there are Frank Robinson, Boog Powell and Don Buford, who bring the bats.
Millions of people undoubtedly wonder why it is that the Mets could beat the Orioles so soundly last year, then finish third to Pittsburgh, a team that was in turn so easily mashed by the Reds in the playoffs. The chief difference between the 1969 and 1970 Mets is pitching. Met pitching a year ago held the Orioles to the lowest five-game Series hit total ever, 23. This time Blair and Brooks Robinson, who together batted .077 against New York, batted .450. Their hits against Cincinnati (18) were only five short of the team aggregate in 1969.