These games took place on July 7 and 8, 1970. They are being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to coronavirus.
As the old adage goes, good teams win the close games. Those nail biters are part of what separates the competitors from the also-rans. For the 1970 Orioles, there was perhaps no better display of their ability to do just than a pair of late-inning wins over the rival New York Yankees in early July.
Mike Cuellar took the hill for the Orioles on July 7 and put together an outing befitting the defending AL Cy Young award winner.
The southpaw sailed through a pair of scoreless innings before Mel Stottlemyre, the Yankees starting pitcher that day, broke the deadlock with a solo home run to open the third inning. That advantage would not hold for long in a game that was otherwise starved of offense for much of the evening.
Entering the bottom of the fourth inning, the Orioles still trailed 1-0. Then Boog Powell reached base on a hit by pitch to begin the frame. After moving all the way to third on a pair of groundouts, Powell came home to score on a Brooks Robinson single, tying things up at a run a piece. A Davey Johnson base knock moved Brooks to second, and then a Mark Belanger single scored the human vacuum to give the good guys a 2-1 lead.
Between the fifth and eighth innings the scoreboard went silent. Cuellar faced 12 Yankee hitters in that span and retired each of them. No hits. No walks. Meanwhile, Stottlemyre scattered four Orioles base runners to maintain the one-run difference.
Cuellar returned to the mound in the ninth inning to finish what he started, and had the Yankees down to their final out before hitting a speed bump. Roy White, who had reached earlier on a single, moved to second on a Thurman Munson hit. Moments later, White crossed home plate as the tying run on a John Ellis hit to left field. Cuellar was able to induce an inning-ending groundout, but the damage had been done. The O’s and Yankees were now tied a two runs apiece, and it seemed the lefty might miss out on his opportunity at a complete game.
The Orioles wasted Belanger’s inning-opening single in the bottom of the ninth, and the game headed to extra innings.
To the surprise of likely no one, Cuellar was back on the bump in the 10th inning. He had actually come to the plate in the Orioles half of the ninth and laid down a successful sacrifice bunt. Clearly, he had unfinished business. Despite serving up a two-out double, the 33-year-old escaped the extra frame with the deadlock intact.
The Orioles bats, which hadn’t scored since the fourth inning, finally woke up in the 10th. Powell got things started with a walk against relief pitcher Lindy McDaniel. Curt Motton came on to run for the lead-footed Powell. A Frank Robinson single moved Motton to second, and an error by Gene Michael, the Yankees shortstop, on a ball off the bat of Elrod Hendricks loaded the bases with Birds.
Brooks stepped to the plate. He had already registered two hits, a run and an RBI in four at-bats. It was a good day by anyone’s standards. But he could do better, and he did. The most beloved man in Baltimore swatted a long fly ball to deep left field, cleared the Memorial Stadium fences and sent the crowd of 28,906 home happy.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for July 7, 1970?
This poll is closed
Brooks Robinson (walk-off grand slam)
Mike Cuellar (10-inning complete game win)
Those same two teams returned to the field the very next night for what would prove to be an even more exhilarating affair for the hometown Orioles.
Don Buford started the game with a bang, leading off the bottom of the first inning with a solo dong to right field off of Yankees starter Stan Bahnsen. But it didn’t stop there. Merv Rettenmund and Powell both reached base on singles ahead of the Robinson brothers in the middle of the lineup. Frank’s single drove in Rettenmund and moved Powell to third base. Brooks brought home Powell on a sacrifice fly to center field. Almost immediately, the O’s had a 3-0 lead.
Luckily for the Bombers, they got to face Dave McNally on one of his rare “off” nights in the 1970 season. A Belanger error at shortstop and a double by Ellis brought that season’s Rookie of the Year, Munson, to the plate with two on and no out. He took the McNally offering and deposited it beyond the left field wall for a three-run bomb to tie things up at 3-3.
One inning later, the Yankees would take the lead outright. With two outs, Danny Cater doubled to left field, bringing home Bobby Murcer, who had reached base on a walk minutes earlier.
But if there was one thing that the 1970 Orioles did not have a problem with it was scoring runs. The AL’s best offense came through again in the bottom of the fourth to reclaim the lead. With Rettenmund on first, Powell smacked his 22nd long ball of the season to right field, giving the O’s a 5-4 advantage. Frank piled on a few pitches later with a solo round-tripper of his own to make it 6-4.
That wouldn’t put an end to the back-and-forth nature of this one, though. The Yankees started the seventh inning with a pair of singles from Ron Hansen and Horace Clarke. A fielder’s choice gave them runners on the corners with one out, and then a Roy White flyout made it count, scoring Hansen from third.
McNally remained in the game into the 8th inning with the Orioles clinging to a slim 6-5 lead. Ellis eliminated that lead with one swing, sending a solo shot into the Baltimore night and knotting the score at six runs each.
At this point, McNally was lifted in favor of Moe Drabowsky, a veteran righty whom the Orioles had acquired from the Royals just a few weeks prior. Unfortunately for Drabowsky, he would pick up right where his predecessor had left off. Munson welcomed him to the game with a single, and then Curt Blefary put him in line for the loss with a two-run bomb to right field, making it an 8-6 game in favor of the Yankees.
The Orioles entered their half of the ninth inning with just an 8% chance to win per Baseball Reference’s win expectancy metric. Just as they had done the night before, the Yankees entrusted McDaniel with late-inning work. And why wouldn’t they? He was in the middle of a superb season, one that would end with a 2.01 ERA, 176 ERA+ and even some down-ballot MVP consideration. Unfortunately for him, the Orioles were just that much better than everyone else that summer.
Frank wasted no time and launched a bomb to left field (his second of the game) to open the inning and draw the Orioles within one run. Brooks followed with a single. Johnson added another single. And Andy Etchebarren walked to load the bases with no outs. The writing was on the wall. That was until Terry Crowley struck out, and then Hendricks suffered the same fate. All of a sudden, the O’s were down to their final out and it was Buford’s turn to hit.
As most things did for the Orioles that season, this too just worked out. Buford singled, scoring rookie Bobby Grich, who had come on to run for Brooks. Johnson was right behind him to score the ninth, and winning, run of the evening. The Orioles had won in walk-off fashion on back-to-back nights over the division rival Yankees.
The two wins improved the Orioles to 52-30 on the season, 7.5 games clear of the second-place pinstripers in the AL East.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for July 8, 1970?
This poll is closed
Don Buford (3-for-4, HR, walk-off two-run single, 3 RBI)
Frank Robinson (4-for-5, two home runs, 3 RBI)
Boog Powell (3-for-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI)