It was to be a Grand Confrontation, the grandest, surely, of a baseball season significantly deficient in moments of high passion. A meeting that would stir the juices, and about time.
Take away the Marx Brothers chase in the National League West, and what had there been except walkaway pennant races and runaway franchises? But now Vida Blue, the game's most exciting pitcher, would face off against the Orioles, the game's most stimulating team, in the opening shot of the playoff for the championship of the American League. This would be an occasion.
The city of Baltimore was calling itself "Flagtown U.S.A." again, and in Flagtown the otherwise dour hotel clerks were sporting plastic straw boaters and wearing yellow buttons instructing visitors to "Smile, you're in Baltimore." Charles O. Finley, Oakland's eccentric owner, was there, glowing in a double-knit Pucci sport coat of, naturally, "vida blue." And by Saturday there was something in the air for sure—rain. It poured resolutely, forcing a one-day postponement, the 15th for the Orioles at home this year.
But the Grand Confrontation could wait 24 hours. It finally came beneath clear skies, and on a Baltimore Memorial Stadium playing field reduced by water and the football Colts to the consistency of a vacant lot. A lot frequented, it developed, by flights of angry bees that intimidated hapless outfielders and batters. It was hardly a proper setting for an event of these proportions. So maybe it was fitting that Blue, too, was found wanting.
October 10, 1971
He seemed in firm control for the first three innings. Then he surrendered a run in the fourth. He entered the seventh inning two runs ahead, 3-1. He left it two runs behind, 3-5. He also left the game. In the end, he was fouled by lesser men. A double by Curt Motton, a .189 hitter, tied the score, and another by Paul Blair, who had hit .176 against the A's this year, won the day.
Not so grand a confrontation, perhaps. Still, it had its moments of finery. The Giants and Pittsburgh had been busy tidily splitting their playoff start 5-4 and 4-9, but Baltimore was where the juices really flowed.