Ah, yes, the World Series of 79. That was the year it snowed, right? Well, close. In spite of miserable weather, Doug DeCinces' home run put Baltimore one up, but the next night Eddie Murray was nailed at the plate by Ed Ott as the Pirates evened it at a game each. Ken Singleton met a similar fate, Pittsburgh's Steve Nicosia making a diving tag, but the Orioles won anyway to move ahead 2-1. And then 3-1, as big Tim Stoddard was tough in relief and with a bat. But Bill Madlock kept the Pirates alive when he rapped out four hits to send the Series shivering back to Baltimore.
It had rained so fiercely and so long on the scheduled opening night of the 1979 World Series that even Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a man as impervious to inclement weather as Nanook of the North, could see no virtue in exposing the Orioles and Pirates to pneumonia or trench foot. Thus, for the first time in history, a Series opener was postponed. It snowed the following morning, and it rained a little more in the afternoon as temperatures warmed to a notch above freezing. But by game time the ebony skies above Baltimore were leaking only occasional moisture. The night's first hero was Pat Santarone, the Oriole head groundkeeper, who, with a crew of 25, transformed a Memorial Stadium field the consistency of quicksand into a diamond on which a player might stand for moments at a time without sinking to his armpits. This is not to say the field was playable—there were stretches in the outfield, notably where the football benches had been situated during the Colts-Jets game the previous Sunday, that were pure Chesapeake Bay mud—but the chances were fair that no one would drown out there.
The temperature was a rapidly declining 41° at 8:37 p.m. (E.D.T.) when the game began, but in the first inning only the Pirates seemed unable to cope with the cold and the mire. In the bottom of the first neither Pittsburgh starter Bruce Kison nor Second Baseman Phil Garner could come to grips with the ball, and their team's hopes for a fast start fell from their slippery fingers.
October 21, 1979
Al Bumbry led off for Baltimore with a looping single, and Mark Belanger, the defensive genius with the .167 batting average, walked. Ken Singleton bounced a double-play ground ball directly at Kison, who, alas, bobbled it and was only able to retire the hitter, Bumbry and Belanger advancing to second and third. Eddie Murray then walked to load the bases. John Lowenstein cracked yet another latent double-play grounder to Garner, who fielded it cleanly enough, but, after experiencing minor difficulty in extracting the ball from his glove, threw it to Leftfielder Bill Robinson. Bumbry and Belanger scored, and Murray advanced to third. "The ball was soaking wet," Garner said later. "My fingers were numb. I couldn't get a grip on it. It was like throwing a bar of soap."
Now Kison victimized himself further. With the count two balls, no strikes on Doug DeCinces, he unloaded a wild pitch, and Murray trotted home with the third run of the inning. DeCinces then slugged a long two-run homer to left to make it 5-0. After poor Kison, a skinny man unfortified with suet against the cold, allowed Billy Smith a single to right, Manager Chuck Tanner replaced him with Jim Rooker, the first in a succession of capable Pirate relievers who held Baltimore scoreless the rest of the way. "I lost the sensitivity in my pitching hand," Kison said in an explanation reminiscent of Garner's.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh picked away, a run here, a run there. Willie Stargell's eighth-inning homer put the Pirates within striking distance at 5-4, and it was he who came to bat as the prospective winning run with two out in the ninth. The tying run was on third in the large person of Dave Parker, who had raked Mike Flanagan for his fourth hit—the Pirates' 11th—and had survived a Flanagan pick-off attempt by sliding hard enough into second base to knock the ball loose from Belanger's glove. The count reached 2 and 1 as Flanagan and Stargell confronted each other through clouds of their own breath in the dark midnight air. Flanagan survived. Stargell popped high but harmlessly to Belanger in short left.
Flanagan, a New Hampshire native, said he acclimated easily to the cold. Still, he acknowledged, "When I woke up this morning I thought I'd slept too long and it was December." By hanging on against the chilling presence of Pirate batsmen, he staved off for the time being a long cold winter in Oriole-mad Baltimore.
When Murray comes to bat, Baltimore zealots send up a tumultuous "Ed-dee, Ed-dee, Ed-dee" liturgy. He is a popular player who drove home 99 runs this season but, beyond his obvious competence, there is about him an air of anticipation. When Murray is on the field, something will happen, for good or ill. In this game he outdid even himself, figuring importantly in at least five pivotal plays.
After the Pirates moved out to a two-run lead in their half of the second inning on consecutive singles by Stargell, John Milner and Bill Madlock and a sacrifice fly by Ed Ott, Murray scored one for the Orioles with a mighty home run deep into the rightfield bleachers. Then, in the sixth inning, he scored Singleton from first with a scorching double into the leftfield alley to tie the game. Murray moved to third on DeCinces' infield out. The situation was promising for the Orioles: one out and Murray, a fast man, on third, prepared to score on a hit or a sacrifice fly. Lowenstein lined out softly to Parker in medium-deep right. Murray tagged and headed for the plate. Parker's throw was powerful and true, arriving so far in advance of Murray that he could neither elude Catcher Ott's tag with a slide nor crash into Ott in hopes of jarring the ball loose. Instead, Ott rushed forward, an instance, he said later, of "Mohammed coming to the mountain." The mountain became the third out.
With the score still 2-2 in the eighth, Murray was on second and DeCinces on first with no one out. Lowenstein, instead of sacrificing, hit a ground ball to Shortstop Tim Foli, who was en route to third in the Pittsburgh bunt defense. Arriving just after the ball was—yes indeed—Fast Eddie. Foli attempted to tag him, but Murray jumped back out of reach. Momentarily thwarted, Foli threw to second for the force, and Murray was ultimately tagged out in a rundown between second and third.
The stalemate was broken in an eventful ninth, in which—who else?—Murray was again the protagonist. Ott was on second for the Pirates and Garner on first with two out when Tanner sent 35-year-old Manny Sanguillen in to hit for Pitcher Don Robinson.
A heavy mist, or light rain, had been falling since the seventh inning, and the turf, which had hardened a bit since the first game, was turning to ooze once more. It had been 52° when the game started, but now, more than three hours later, it was as cold as the previous evening. Sanguillen is a notorious bad-ball hitter, and Don Stanhouse, now pitching for Baltimore, is a notorious bad-ball pitcher who seems at his peak after he has walked the bases loaded. But Stanhouse was on target this time, and he quickly got Sanguillen in a one-ball, two-strike hole. The next pitch was a slider that did not slide, and Sanguillen hit it sharply to rightfield for a single. Singleton scooped the ball out of the mud on one hop and threw hard to the plate in the hope of cutting down the chugging Ott, who is certainly not the fastest Pirate. Enter Murray, now in his defensive role as first baseman. As thousands gasped, he cut off the throw between first and the plate and then wheeled and threw home himself. Ott slid behind Oriole Catcher Rick Dempsey to score the winning run.
Plays such as these are the subject of debate for months afterward. Why did he cut off the throw? Said Murray, "I thought the ball was off line." Said Earl Weaver, "It looked like the ball was dying." Said Dempsey, "You'll never know." Said Tanner, "If the ball had hit that mud out there, it might have stuck." Said Singleton, "It [the ball] would have picked up momentum. He didn't have to move to cut it off. If it's right to him, it's on line." Said Ott: "I never knew the ball had been cut off until I had a slice of baloney in my hand later on in the clubhouse. Somebody said, 'Can you believe they cut that ball off?' I said, 'Cut what ball off?' "
In every sense except the official, this was not one but two games. The first lasted 2½ innings, ending in a cloudburst at 9:34 p.m. The second began one hour and seven minutes later and lasted 6½ innings, ending well past midnight under clear, cold skies. The Pirates won the first, 3-2; the Orioles the second, 6-1. Put them together, as the rules require, and they add up to an 8-4 Orioles win, a 2-1 edge for them in the Series and a demoralizing homecoming for the Pirates.
Oriole Starter Scott McGregor, a fragile-looking lefthander from Southern California, was no mystery to Pirate sluggers before the rains came. His balk in the first inning—an illegal wiggle of the glove, so slight it was hardly detectable on television replay—led to one run, and he gave up two more in the second when Garner drilled a double to left center that scored Stargell and Steve Nicosia. In the 2½-inning game, he allowed three runs and six hits. Then it began to rain, lightly at first, torrentially by the end of the Baltimore half of the third inning. Somehow, Benny Ayala, a surprise starter in Weaver's all righthand-hitting lineup against Pirate lefty John Candelaria, propelled a two-run homer through the downpour before time was called and the tarpaulin was trotted out. Players retreated to the warmth of their locker rooms; fans, not so lucky, milled about in the corridors outside the stadium; and ABC switched to Barney Miller.
After the deluge, the game had gone out of Candelaria and the Pirates. The Orioles effectively wrapped things up with a five-run fourth inning, highlighted by a bases-loaded triple by another obscure starter, Kiko Garcia. Garcia, whose only previous distinction was that his birthplace, Martinez, Calif., is the same as Joe DiMaggio's, batted in a fourth run with a single in the seventh to raise his Series batting average to .800. In the regular season he hit .247 and drove in only 24 runs in 417 times at bat. But playing infield, he also made 27 errors in 126 games, a negative statistic that led Weaver to replace him in the late innings of close games by the still nearly flawless Belanger. Belanger had started the two previous Series games, the first because of his much greater postseason experience, the second because one of the few pitchers he does hit is the Pirates' Bert Blyleven, the starter that night. Belanger was hitless in both games. The Orioles, for that matter, had scored only twice since their five-run outburst in Inning 1 of Game 1. Weaver obviously concluded it was time for a little offense, so Garcia started at short, and Gary Roenicke went to center, Ayala to left and Rich Dauer to second. The result bears witness to Weaver's reputed genius, as Oriole base hits skipped over the rain-slick Tartan Turf like stones off a pond.
For his part, McGregor tormented Pirate hitters with his variable-speed deliveries. His most effective pitch may, in fact, be his changeup. And his explanation for his unpromising first three innings may be comprehended only by a pitcher who features this off-speed pitch: "I had a whole week to get strong. I had too much strength, so my change was too hard. Its speed was too close to my fastball's. The hitters weren't getting out in front of it the way I'd like them to. Besides, I guess I pitch pretty well after rain delays. We get enough of those in Baltimore."
McGregor gave up only one run after the rain delay, but he came within inches of giving up many more. In the fifth, Singleton caught Parker's long drive with his back up against the 375-foot sign in right, and in the sixth Nicosia and Garner hit back-to-back shots that carried to the fence. "Zippo is what we got on all three," said Garner. The Pirates seemed disconsolate after this loss. They had beaten the Orioles in their home park and were hoping for a sweep at home. Instead, zippo.
With his team trailing 4-3 in the third inning, Oriole pinch-hitting ace Terry Crowley turned to fellow reservist Lowenstein in the dugout and said, prophetically, "I can see right now it'll be you, me and Kelly." It was. At least it was Lowenstein and Crowley. Pat Kelly did get an inconsequential, if disputed, infield pinch hit in the seventh inning, but Lowenstein and Crowley provided the ammunition for what Weaver calls his "loaded gun" bench. They and tall Tim Stoddard, a pitcher who rarely pitches and never hits, more than likely shot Pirate hopes to kingdom come in this, the first day game of the Series. At least it started out as a day game. When it ended three hours and 48 minutes later, the lights were on in chilly Three Rivers. It was the longest nine-inning game in World Series history and, therefore, joined the opening game of this Series, which, at three hours, 18 minutes, was the longest Series night game, in the record book.
No matter how long it took, it was a demoralizing loss for the Pirates, who saw a four-run lead evaporate in the early innings, a three-run lead disappear toward the end. Pittsburgh's first four runs were scored in the second on Stargell's homer to dead center, a single by Milner, consecutive ground-rule doubles by Madlock and Ott and singles by Garner and Omar Moreno. But Garcia, rapidly becoming the Bucky Dent of 1979, doubled home two runs in the third and scored himself on Singleton's double. The Pirates kept their distance with single runs in the fifth and sixth off Steve Stone, pitching in relief. Their own starter, Jim Bibby, had struck out seven in the first six innings. Then in the eighth, with one out, the Orioles loaded the bases off Reliever Robinson, and Tanner called cadaverous Kent Tekulve in from the bullpen. Tekulve had retired nine straight hitters in the previous two Series games, but this time Weaver was ready for him. He had intentionally withheld his star lefthanded pinch hitters in the hope that they would get a shot at the long-armed sidewinder.
Tekulve's whiplash delivery is anathema to righthanded hitters. Still, when he was in the minor leagues, he had been urged to switch to an overhand motion, the theory being that he would be prey for lefthanders who would have too long a look at his sidearm pitches. His remarkable success—31 saves in 94 appearances this year—pretty well silenced the theorists. All, that is, except Weaver.
Lowenstein, who won the Orioles' first playoff game with a pinch homer, was the first gunner. Batting for the right-handed Roenicke, he worked the count to 2-2 and then doubled past a groping Stargell down the rightfield line, to drive in two runs and reduce the Pirate lead to 6-5. Billy Smith, another Weaver pinch hitter, was walked intentionally to load the bases and set up a double-play possibility. Tekulve's fastball sinks naturally, so ground balls are common when he works. The next hitter, to Tekulve's ultimate sorrow, was, however, the fore-sighted Crowley, a .317 hitter in 63 at bats this season.
As Weaver would say later, Crowley was in the right spot at the right time. He took Tekulve to a 2-2 count, as Lowenstein had before him; then, just as his benchmate had done, he doubled down the rightfield line to score the tying and winning runs. The excitement must have been too much for Weaver, because he now let his pitcher, Stoddard, hit for himself, and Stoddard had never before swung a bat in the major leagues. But Weaver wanted Stoddard to stay in the game, so he might hold his two more heralded late-inning relievers, lefty Tippy Martinez and righty Stanhouse, in ready reserve. Weaver told Stoddard to take a couple of strikes and then shift for himself. In fact, Weaver hoped Stoddard would not make enough contact to end the inning with a double play. Stoddard borrowed a bat from Lowenstein and a batting helmet from Singleton and, disobeying all instructions, hit Tekulve's first pitch on a high bounce over Third Baseman Madlock's head to score the insurance run. It was his first hit in professional baseball. Bumbry knocked in one more run for good measure, and Stoddard put the Pirates, most definitely a subdued group of players, down in the eighth and ninth.
The game represented a personal triumph for Weaver, who has lately taken to brushing aside encomiums on his genius. "This ain't so hard," he will, say, blushingly. His players think differently. "Earl seems to pull everybody out of the hat at the right time," said Lowenstein, one of those pulled out this day. "I will go home tonight saying I didn't miss any moves," Weaver finally conceded. "At least I don't think I did."
He can rest assured that he did not. Not a one.
Under less than ideal circumstances, the "real" Pirates made their first appearance of the Series—and not a moment too soon. Down three games to one after two embarrassing losses at home, they finally put their well-publicized act together and sprayed the tundra of Three Rivers with line drives that, considering the frigid clime, might for once be called frozen ropes with some degree of accuracy. Afield, they thwarted the big-inning Orioles with acrobatic double plays. And the pitching of the 37-year-old Rooker, the starter, and Blyleven, his relief, was exemplary. Almost everyone in the frozen stadium half expected the Orioles to burst forth with one of their crazy-quilt four-or five-run innings, but this time they would be denied.
For five innings, this was a brisk, efficient pitching duel between the red-haired Rooker and Flanagan, the tenacious Oriole lefthander. The Orioles drew first blood in the fifth, when Roenicke, who had led off the inning with a double to left center, scored while DeCinces and Dauer were being erased by a Garner-initiated double play. Rooker departed in the Pirates' half of the inning when Lee Lacy hit for him and singled. He had allowed only three hits. His replacement, Blyleven, would give up three more in the remaining four innings and hold the Orioles scoreless. Blyleven was making only his sixth relief appearance in a major league career that dates to 1970, but he found the experience congenial. "When it comes down to the final games and millions of people are watching, it doesn't matter when you come into a game," he said.
The Pirate hitters, meanwhile, unloaded the heavy lumber on Flanagan's relievers—Stoddard, Tippy Martinez and Stanhouse—after Iron Mike left for a pinch hitter in the seventh. It was not as if the Pirates had been hitting nothing but pop fouls in the previous games. In fact, they had 48 hits through Game 4. It was just that, unlike their opponents, they had been squandering their hits in meaningless situations. This time they made them count. In the sixth they got a pair of runs on two hits, singles by Parker and Madlock, who finished the day 4 for 4. Stargell accounted for one run with a sacrifice fly, and Madlock another with a shot to centerfield that brought Parker in from third. Pittsburgh scored twice more in the seventh, this time on three hits, the most important being Foli's triple into a narrow slice of open field between Bumbry and Singleton in right center. The two outfielders were playing shallow against the choke-hitting right-handed Foli, and with Moreno on second, Foli simply poked it into the void. Parker then hit a much more substantial double to left center to score Foli. The Pirates scored three more on four hits in the eighth, with Foli again the hero. With the bases loaded, he slashed a hard grounder that Garcia got a glove on but could not hold. Two runs scored.
The Orioles had few chances, and when they did, the Pirates took them away. In the eighth Bumbry walked with one out, but Garner made a diving stop of Singleton's hard smash and converted it into a double play. Foli was defiant after the game. "We buried ourselves," he said of the earlier losses. "It's up to us to get ourselves out now."
The team may also have gained strength from Tanner, who managed them in this critical game despite the death that morning of his mother, Anne. "We had no idea," said Parker. "You would never have known it, looking at him. He kept the club stable with his example."