This game took place on April 7, 1970. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to coronavirus.
The Orioles who took the field on a cool April day in Cleveland to begin the 1970 season had a tough act to follow. The year before, they won 109 games in the regular season and it took a miracle - that is, the Miracle Mets - to beat them in the World Series.
How are you supposed to beat that? In one way, the Orioles did not. They “only” won 108 games, but it’s okay, because they eventually won it all. Not that they knew that on Opening Day, even after they won, 8-2, against the Indians. As wins go, it wasn’t even a terribly interesting one, though Orioles fans 50 years later are well aware not to take any win for granted.
It all started with three of the first four Orioles to bat striking out. This included the #2 hitter, Mark Belanger. Even Earl Weaver did some things that are clearly mistakes by modern thinking. Batting Belanger, who went on to a career .228/.300/.280 batting line, so high was clearly one of them, although in fairness, Belanger did post a .351 OBP in the 1969 season, and Weaver moved him far down the lineup after a couple of months when it was clear he wasn’t hitting.
The Orioles trailed soon after. Opening Day starter Dave McNally issued a walk to the first batter he saw, right fielder Ted Ford. A different Ted, center fielder Ted Uhlaender, dropped a bunt to get Ford to second base. It’s the kind of thing that would drive the modern fan bonkers.
Perhaps Cleveland’s manager, Al Dark, thought playing for a run against the Orioles was worthwhile. In any case, it’s unlikely that Cleveland’s general manager, Al Dark, ever took him to task for it. Irrelevant to the outcome of this game, Dark got a later laugh against the Orioles as he led the Oakland Athletics past them in the 1974 ALCS on the way to a World Series title.
In this case, it paid off: The next batter, left fielder Roy Foster, singled and Ford scored to give the Indians a 1-0 lead. That was the end of it, though. The next batter hit into a double play around the horn, Brooks to Davey Johnson to Boog. I wish I could have seen this infield regularly in action.
The eventual season champions wasted little time answering with a run of their own. Paul Blair walked to lead off the top of the second inning. A passed ball got him to second base and Johnson drove him in, though it seems the Indians hit the cutoff man and started a rundown. Johnson was out at second base on the run-scoring single, 7-5-4-3.
Things stayed there until the fourth inning, when Foster got to McNally again with a leadoff home run. Not bad at all, considering it was Foster’s MLB debut. He went on to bat .268/.357/.468 in the 1970 season and was the Rookie of the Year runner-up to Thurman Munson, though Foster was out of the league after the 1972 season.
McNally walked the next man after Foster, prompting another Cleveland sacrifice bunt. This one did not pay off. Neither did the one that followed Indians pitcher Sam McDowell leading off the fifth inning with a single. The pitcher gets on base and THEN you blow an out on the sacrifice bunt! It’s unbelievable.
The Indians got only one hit after the fourth inning, with McNally holding them to just four hits over a complete game. This was one of 16 complete games he threw in 1970, and that was only the third-highest total on the Orioles. Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar had more. Palmer, by the way, began this season as the #4 starter. Really.
Back to the game at hand, things stayed with the O’s trailing, 2-1, until the top of the seventh inning. Cleveland’s starter McDowell seems to have hit a wall, with walks to both Boog Powell and Blair to begin the inning. After McDowell got out Brooks Robinson on a fly ball deep enough to move Powell from second to third, Dark turned to matchups. None of them worked.
Righty reliever Phil Hennigan faced the righty batter Johnson and walked him to load the bases. Hennigan seems to have been summoned mid-at-bat, as he is not credited in the box score with a walk and McDowell is instead. Cleveland brought in reliever Mike Paul, prompting Earl to pinch hit Elrod Hendricks in place of Andy Etchebarren. Hendricks was also a lefty like Paul, so it seems like a strange move. Maybe Baseball Reference has it listed backwards, or maybe 1970 was just really weird.
What’s certain is that Paul walked Hendricks to force in the tying run, and after striking out the pitcher McNally, he walked in Curt Motton, who replaced Buford in the field the previous inning, to force in another run. This gave the O’s a 3-2 lead.
The bullpen problems didn’t stop there for the Indians. Dennis Higgins, who got the last out in the seventh, stayed on in the eighth and had problems. He walked Frank Robinson and gave up a single to Powell, then was beaten by Blair for a two-run double. Brooks Robinson followed with another walk, and after a double steal, Johnson drove in two more runs.
The rout was on. McNally sent down the Indians in order in the eighth and ninth to move things towards a swift conclusion. Frank added to the O’s cushion in the top of the ninth with a solo home run, number 451 of his career. He would go on to join the 500 club as an Oriole, though that didn’t happen until the next season.
The ten walks picked up by Orioles batters were a sign of things to come for the season. They went on to lead the whole AL with 717 walks. With so many walks came an AL-best OBP of .344 - .359 if you don’t count pitchers. They were pretty good.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Opening Day, 1970?
This poll is closed
Paul Blair (1-3, 2 BB, 2 RBI, 2 SB)
Davey Johnson (2-4, 3 RBI)
Dave McNally (complete game four-hitter)
Frank Robinson (451st career home run)