This game took place on September 11, 1970. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to coronavirus.
At 8:03 p.m. on an overcast but balmy Friday night in September, the first-place Orioles kicked off a three-game series against the Red Sox. Both teams’ starters went the distance—and then some, tossing 12 innings apiece. Boog Powell and Chico Salmon went deep for the Birds. And at precisely 11:04 p.m., shortstop Mark Belanger drilled a pinch-hit single off of future Cy Young award winner Sparky Lyle to sew up a—relatively easy, as far as these things go—three-hour, 13-inning win.
The Orioles were 93-51, up a comfy twelve games in the AL East over the New York Yankees, against whom they’d just swept a two-game series on the strength of shutdown outings from hurlers Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally.
Wouldn’t you know, it was just the Red Sox’s crummy luck that next up in the Orioles’ rotation was 1970 AL All-Star Game starter and Cy Young hopeful Jim Palmer. (Palmer finished that season with a 20-10 record, a 2.71 ERA and 199 strikeouts, and came in fifth in the voting, three years before scooping up his first of three Cy Young awards.)
Third-place Boston came into the contest a none-too-shabby 75-68, led by their All-Star first baseman, Carl Yastrzemski, who was mounting a convincing MVP campaign in his tenth out of twenty-three (!!) professional seasons. (That season, Yastrzemski led the league in OBP (.452), slugging (.592), OPS (1.044), OPS+ (177) and total bases (335), but he’d finish fourth in the MVP vote, behind Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and—Baltimore’s own Boog Powell.) Other Red Sox standouts included shortstop Reggie Smith (a seven-time All Star and 64.6 career-WAR guy who, if you ask me, seems a tad underrated in baseball lore), third baseman George Scott, and in the outfield, a pair of brothers born in the greater Boston area, Billy and Tony Conigliaro.
Facing seventh-year Boston righty Sonny Siebert, who was 13-8 with a 3.69 ERA at that point in the season, the Birds jumped out to an early lead. After leadoff man Don Buford struck out looking, shortstop Chico Salmon turned on a pitch, sending it deep into the left-field bleachers to put the home team up 1-0.
That formula was repeated in the third inning when lefty Boog Powell took a two-out Siebert offering deep to right, the first of three hits for Boog on the day. 2-0, Orioles.
Jim Palmer, meanwhile, had kept the Sox at bay through the first four innings, three scattered singles all Boston hitters had to show for their efforts. That was, however, until catcher Bob Montgomery got to the Orioles ace in the top of the fifth. The third solo home run of the game put Boston on the scoreboard and cut the Orioles’ lead to 2-1.
The Orioles threatened again in the sixth. Boog Powell led off with another hit before a Frank Robinson fielder’s choice erased him on the basepaths. Making up for lost ground, Robinson stole second, then took third after tagging on a deep flyball off the bat of centerfielder Paul Blair. That was as far as Robinson got that inning, though. A pop foul by No. 6 hitter Brooks Robinson snuffed out the rally.
In the top of the seventh, Jim Palmer continued to walk the tightrope, holding off Boston to protect the Orioles’ narrow lead. Boston strung together two singles before pitcher Sonny Siebert laid down a successful sac bunt to put runners on third and second with two outs. Ever cool under pressure, “Cakes” drew a ground ball to second to end the threat.
He wouldn’t be as lucky in the eighth. Carl Yastrzemski was 0-for-3 so far, but he wouldn’t be denied a fourth time, launching a double to left-center. Another consecutive oppo-field hit, this time by the clean-up hitter, shortstop Rico Petrocelli, scored Yaz to tie up the game at two runs apiece.
Through the end of nine, Baltimore and Boston hitters alike went down meekly.
In the tenth inning, the Orioles threatened again, this time when catcher Andy Etchebarren singled and was bunted over to second by the indefatigable Palmer. Don Buford drew an intentional walk. Manager Earl Weaver subbed out Chico Salmon to pinch-hit rookie Terry Crowley, then a 23-year-old lefty hitting .290 off the bench. Against what I imagine was a by now-exhausted Siebert, the move made sense. Crowley flew out, however, and on we went.
The starters were finally lifted after the twelfth inning, and for both sides, things got dicey fast. In the top of the thirteenth, Palmer’s replacement, 29-year-old righty Eddie Watt, used often by Weaver as a closer that season, allowed a leadoff single to Yastrzemski. A single put runners on first and third with one out. Outfielder Billy Conigliaro hit a grounder to third, but it was just what Watt needed to wriggle out of trouble: 5-4-3 double play, Brooks Robinson to Davey Johnson to Boog Powell.
Boston’s cleanup man, lefty reliever Sparky Lyle, had it even worse. During the next decade, Lyle would go on to be a three-time All Star for the Yankees, not to mention the 1977 Cy Young winner. But, you could say, this was not his season—and certainly not his night. The switch-hitting Don Buford, 0-for-4 with an IBB to that point, greeted the lefty Lyle rudely, slicing a leadoff double to left. Up came Mark Belanger with the chance to play the hero. He, too, made contact, lacing a single to center, all the speedy Buford needed to come around to score.
And with that, the O’s kicked off a three-game sweep of the Red Sox and a seven-game win streak that would carry them through mid-September.
Who was the Most Birdland player for September 11, 1970?
This poll is closed
Jim Palmer (12 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 SO)
Boog Powell (3-for-5, HR, RBI)
Don Buford (1-for-5, 2B, IBB, scored game-winning run)
Mark Belanger (1-for-1, game-winning RBI)