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Retro Orioles recap: Orioles edge out a doubleheader sweep against division rival Senators

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Oh, the good old days—the Orioles were good, that Washington team was bad… and an evening doubleheader that opened with five innings from Jim Palmer ended with a walkoff single from outfielder Merv Rettenmund in the bottom of the 13th.

Baltimore Orioles
The hero of Game Two of the doubleheader, Orioles outfielder Merv Rettenmund, headed to first base during a 1970 game at Memorial Stadium.
Photo by Diamond Images/Getty Images

This doubleheader took place on June 19, 1970. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to coronavirus.

So, from our newfangled modern perspective, a couple of striking things about this one: a Friday night doubleheader kicking off at Memorial Stadium at 5:31 p.m. Six teams in an AL East division that featured the Orioles, the Yankees, and the Red Sox, but also the Washington Senators, the Detroit Tigers, and the Cleveland Indians. Three future Hall of Famers taking the field—Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, and Frank Robinson—and three more in the dugout—Senators coach Nellie Fox, plus the two opposing managers, Earl Weaver and the Senators’ own Ted Williams. (Williams would go on to an eventual 273-364 record over four seasons with the Senators and, when they went West, the Texas Rangers.)

These were two teams headed in opposite directions. Since April 26, the Orioles had been in sole possession of first place in the division, a position they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, after hovering around the middle of the pack in April and May, the Senators had just slunk into the cellar—a position they’d also keep, going on to finish the year 70-92.

For O’s ace Jim Palmer, it was a somewhat un-Palmerlike day, even though his five-inning, four-run effort turned out to be good enough to get the win. In the top of the first, Palmer surrendered a two-run blast to Senators’ first baseman Mike Epstein to put the Birds in a 2-0 hole. But as it turned out, that was the last time the Senators would hold the lead that day.

The Birds stormed back to knot up the score in the bottom of the first. Outfielder Merv Rettenmund and Frank Robinson strung together a pair of singles off of Senators’ righty Dick Bosman, then Boog Powell drove them in with a double. Two innings later, switch-hitting leadoff man Don Buford took Bosman deep to right to make it 3-2.

In the fourth inning, things got even uglier for the Senators after Baltimore catcher Elrod Hendricks reached base on a HBP and second baseman Chico Salmon singled. The No. 8 hitter, the light-hitting Mark Belanger, laid down a bunt that the catcher bungled, allowing two runs to score. Belanger himself came home on a Buford single, putting the Birds up 6-2.

The Orioles made it 8-3 in the fifth with a pinch-hit double by catcher Andy Etchebarren and Belanger’s third RBI of the game. By the sixth, after six straight Orioles reached base that inning, the score was 12-4. Boog and Brooks Robinson each drove in two, though Brooksie was thrown out at third trying to stretch a double.

With all that, the game still almost got away from Baltimore in the late innings. In the seventh, the Senators hit a two-out grand slam off of Jim Palmer’s replacement, righty Moe Drabowsky, then scored two runs (one unearned) in the ninth off of Eddie Watt and Pete Richert to make it 12-10. Earl Weaver brought in the veteran Dick Hall to put a stop to such foolishness, and it worked: Game 1 went to Baltimore.

Here’s something you don’t see much anymore: in Game 2 of the doubleheader, the starter tossed nine full innings, coughed up the tying run on a two-out solo home run in the ninth, then came out again to pitch a clean tenth! Jim Hardin, in his fourth of five seasons with Baltimore, was on his way to an unremarkable 6-5 record with a 3.53 ERA, but he put on quite a performance late into that June night.

For nine innings, Game 2 was a tale of the long ball. The Orioles took an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first when, with Rettenmund aboard, Hall of Fame right fielder Frank Robinson took the Senators’ Casey Cox deep to center-right. Unfortunately, the runs dried up after that. In fact, only three other Orioles hitters reached base during the first nine innings.

Hardin pitched a fantastic ten innings, but the two solo four-baggers he allowed—to Senators catcher Paul Casanova in the fifth inning, and to second baseman Bernie Allen in the ninth—conspired to deny him the win.

Hardin’s replacement in the eleventh inning was Pete Richert, who’d faced one batter in the ninth inning of Game 1, allowing two runs on a single. This time it was a much different result. Richert provided the O’s with three lockdown innings, facing just one batter over the minimum.

Meanwhile, after squandering walks to Mark Belanger and Brooks Robinson in the 11th and 12th innings, the Orioles finally broke through in the bottom of the 13th. All-Star and Gold Glove second baseman Davey Johnson, who’d replaced Chico Salmon in the 8th inning, kicked things off with a double. The Senators’ Darren Knowles intentionally walked Mark Belanger (stop and read that again) before striking out pinch-hitter Curt Motton and getting Don Buford to pop out. With two outs, Rettenmund, a sub that month for Paul Blair, who was out with a broken nose after getting beaned in the face, drove a ball to center, allowing Davey Johnson to score easily. Ballgame, 3-2 Orioles.

Before going on to the World Series, Baltimore would finish the 1970 season with a 108-54 record (for a dazzling .667 win percentage). On a warm June night where they took two from a hapless Washington, some of that vintage Orioles magic was very much on display.

You can read the complete box score (Game 1 here, Game 2 here), courtesy of Baseball Reference.

Poll

Who was the Most Birdland Player for June 19, 1970?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Boog Powell (5-for-10, two 2B, 4 RBI)
    (32 votes)
  • 24%
    Merv Rettenmund (4-for-10, 3 R, walkoff RBI)
    (21 votes)
  • 4%
    Frank Robinson (3-for-8, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI)
    (4 votes)
  • 32%
    Jim Hardin (10 IP, 2 ER)
    (28 votes)
85 votes total Vote Now