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Retro Orioles recap: Paul Blair lifts the Orioles to 6-5 walk-off win against the Angels

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The Orioles couldn’t seem to hold onto a lead for long on Sunday afternoon against the Angels, but with some timely hitting and ninth inning magic, they came out on top in the end.

Milwaukee Brewers v Baltimore Orioles
Paul Blair swinging away at the plate.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

This game took place on August 23, 1970. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to coronavirus.

The pace was quick on Sunday evening at the ballpark, with the game lasting only two hours and twenty minutes. And it was punctuated by an exciting and abrupt finish that saw the Orioles improve their record to 80-45 on the year. Starter Mike Cuellar gutted his way to a complete game victory, aided by the timeliest of hits by center fielder Paul Blair in the ninth inning.

The Orioles came into the series finale against the Angels having split the first two games of the three-game set at Memorial Stadium. At the start of play, the Birds had a 6-5 win advantage in the season series against the team that would become the Los Angeles Angels much, much further down the line.

The California Angels, under the direction of manager Lefty Phillips, finished the 1970 season in third place in the American League West with an 86-76 record.

In this particular game the Birds were able to assume the lead a few times, but the Angels showed an innate ability to claw their way back to tie the game on multiple occasions.

Baltimore was the first to score, plating a run in the bottom of the second after Merv Rettenmund worked a walk to start the inning and Brooks Robinson drove him home with a double. Brooksy would finish the game 1-for-3 with a run, a walk and a RBI, raising his season-long batting line to .275/.333/.427.

The Angels answered in the third inning with a run of their own when center fielder Roger Repoz deposited a solo home run into the seats deep in right field off of Mike Cuellar. It was the first of five runs charged to the Orioles lefty, but he toughed it out for the length of the game, which was long enough for his offense to lift him to a dramatic late victory.

As Tom Smykowski from the movie Office Space once said, “Just remember, if you hang in there long enough, good things can happen in this world.”

The 1-1 tie score did not last for long. The very next inning, the Birds got a clutch piece of hitting to regain the lead. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth, Brooks Robinson earned a base on balls, bringing the six-hole hitter Curt Motton to the plate, who cranked a two-run jack to left field and gave the Orioles a two-run lead.

Lengthening their lead by a few more runs, the Orioles capitalized on errors in the field in the bottom of the fifth. With Ken Tatum on the mound in relief of Angels starter Rudy May, Mark Belanger led off the inning with a single to center field. With Cuellar at the plate, Belanger stole second and came all the way around to score because of a wild pitch by Tatum and then an error by catcher Joe Azcue.

Later in the fifth, with runners on the corners and two outs, Rettenmund hit a routine fly ball but was safe on an error by right fielder Bill Voss, allowing Bobby Grich to cross home plate for the Orioles’ fifth run of the game. It was the last run they would score until the epic ninth inning.

But the Angels made a late-game comeback, scoring runs in back-to-back innings off Mike Cuellar.

Angels second baseman and leadoff hitter Sandy Alomar was responsible for a two-run double in the top of the seventh — his only hit in five trips to the plate — which brought California within two runs of tying the game.

The very next inning, the Angels’ first baseman Jim Spencer uncorked a two-run home run with two outs to knot the score up at five runs apiece.

With Mel Queen on the bump for the Angels in the ninth, the Orioles began what would be a heroic late game rally. Elrod Hendricks came on to pinch-hit for starting catcher Andy Etchebarren but struck out looking for the first out of the inning.

Mark Belanger followed Hendricks to the plate and laced a one-out single to right center field. Then Boog Powell popped out to third base, unable to advance the runner. Down to their final out, the Orioles’ Bobby Grich laid down a bunt single to move Belanger into scoring position.

Then the man of the hour, Paul Blair, strode to the plate. One base knock to left field later and Belanger trucked home, placing the Orioles were on the right side of a 6-5 walk-off victory to wrap up the weekend at Memorial Stadium and give them a series win over the Angels.

Box score from Baseball Reference.

Poll

Who was the Most Birdland player for August 23, 1970?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Mike Cuellar (W, 9 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 4 SO)
    (19 votes)
  • 1%
    Curt Motton (1-for-3, R, 2 RBI)
    (1 vote)
  • 33%
    Paul Blair (1-for-4, BB, walk-off RBI, BB)
    (20 votes)
  • 28%
    Mark Belanger (2-for-4, 2 R, SB)
    (17 votes)
  • 3%
    Bobby Grich (2-for-4, R, BB)
    (2 votes)
59 votes total Vote Now