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Retro Orioles recap: Brooks, O’s walk off Tigers in 1970 home opener

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The Birds’ first game in Baltimore in 1970 was an exciting omen of things to come.

MLB Photos Archive Photo by Photo File/MLB Photos via Getty Images

This game took place on April 10, 1970. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to coronavirus.

It was a day of celebration for the Orioles, who at 2 pm took the field in front of their home fans for the first time in 1970, fresh off a season-opening, three-game sweep in Cleveland (including an easy 8-2 Opening Day victory).

Just over three hours later, Brooks Robinson sent the raucous Memorial Stadium crowd of 32,536 home happy, ripping a walkoff RBI single in the 10th to seal a 3-2 Birds win.

Welcome to the 1970 season, Baltimore. I have a feeling you’re going to like it.

Robinson’s heroics were set up by his fellow Hall of Fame Robinson, Frank, who led off the 10th by working a walk off a likely tiring Tigers ace lefty Mickey Lolich. (It wasn’t uncommon in that era for a starting pitcher to still be on the mound in extras, but Lolich had only done so one time in his previous 220 major league starts, so perhaps he was a bit overexposed.)

After the walk, Frank advanced to second on a groundout before Paul Blair flied to shallow left, inching Lolich one out away from escaping the jam. That’s when Brooks delivered, lacing an opposite-field single to bring the other Robinson scampering home with the game-ending run.

Walkoffs, man. There’s nothing like them. The way the crowd erupts as one in gleeful triumph; the way the home team pours out of the dugout to greet their conquering heroes on the field; that irreplaceable feeling of delivering the finishing, victorious blow to end a hard-fought battle.

And if it’s walkoffs you’re into, just wait — this was the first of 14 walkoff wins for the Birds in 1970, a regular season record for the club (which was later matched in 1974). Most of those games will be recounted in our retro recap series.

Before the O’s got to Robinson’s 10th-inning heroics, though, they had to overcome an uncharacteristically shaky start from ace Jim Palmer, who issued an astounding eight walks during an abbreviated 5.1-inning effort. It was just the second time in his Hall of Fame career he surrendered that many free passes, and the last time he’d ever do it in a regular season game.

Palmer walked at least one batter in each of the six innings he took the hill. Palmer being Palmer, though, he was able to pitch his way out of most of the jams. His first two walks of the game each came with two outs and the bases empty — one in the first inning, one in the second — but the third required some careful maneuvering. A Lolich single and Dick McAuliffe walk put two on with none out for the middle of the lineup, leaving the Tigers primed to pounce. Palmer, unfazed, struck out Cesar Gutierrez and harmlessly retired Hall of Famer Al Kaline and slugger Norm Cash to quash the threat.

In the bottom of the frame, the O’s took the game’s first lead on a bizarre play. Don Buford led off with a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch, and Mark Belanger walked. Lolich then attempted to pick off Belanger and had him dead to rights, but the first baseman Cash muffed the catch, allowing Belanger to scramble to second while Buford scored.

Palmer wriggled his way through the fourth despite two more walks, alternating them with three flyouts. In the fifth, though, his propensity for putting runners on base finally caught up to him. With two outs and a man at third, a walk to Cash kept the inning going, and Willie Horton and Jim Northrup followed with back-to-back RBI singles to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. In the home half, though, the Orioles tied it up when Palmer himself drew a walk and scored on a Belanger double.

Palmer returned for the sixth but didn’t last long; his seventh and eighth walks of the game prompted manager Earl Weaver to give him the hook. Not a great outing by any means, but Palmer did a gutsy job to allow just two runs despite 12 baserunners. With two on and one out, Dave Leonhard stranded his inherited runners by retiring Gutierrez and Kaline.

From there, the Orioles’ relief crew held the line. Leonhard was followed by righty Dick Hall, a steady presence in the Birds’ bullpen for years, who tossed four scoreless innings. He retired 12 of the 14 batters he faced, escaping a jam in the 10th after a leadoff double.

It took a while for the Orioles’ offense to push their final run across, squandering opportunities in the sixth (when they had two runners in scoring position with one out but didn’t score) and the ninth (when the winning run was left stranded at second base). In the 10th, though, Brooks Robinson made sure the fans went home happy after all.

With the win, the Orioles improved to 4-0 to start the season for the first time since 1964. And if you’ll forgive me for skipping ahead, they won the next day, too, making them 5-0 for the first time in club history. That’s a record that held for over 45 years until the 2016 Orioles started the season 7-0.

We’re just getting started, folks. Did I mention 1970 was a fun year?

Box score from Baseball Reference.

Poll

Who was the Most Birdland Player for April 10, 1970?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Dick Hall (W; four scoreless IP of relief)
    (29 votes)
  • 77%
    Brooks Robinson (3-for-4, walkoff single)
    (101 votes)
130 votes total Vote Now