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."
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.