This game took place on September 18, 1970. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to coronavirus.
September 18, 1970 was a good day for the Baltimore Orioles. It would have been a good day regardless of what happened in that night’s game, a game they happened to win 5-4 in 11 innings. That’s because the day before, the Orioles had clinched the American League East, guaranteeing themselves a trip to the postseason for the second straight year.
So before we jump into the game against the Cleveland Indians on the 18th, let me take you back to September 17, 1970. The day began with the Yankees sitting 13.5 games behind the Orioles in second place in the division. By mid-September, eliminating the Yankees was a mere formality. But the Orioles didn’t even get the chance, because the Yankees eliminated themselves first.
The Yankees and Boston Red Sox faced off in New York for a 2 p.m. game. In order to have a chance at the playoffs, the Yankees needed to win and keep winning. But instead they blew a one-run lead in the eighth and lost to the Red Sox in 10 innings. Too bad, so sad.
That game ended just before 5 p.m. with the Orioles playing a night game in Washington against the Senators. The O’s lost, but it didn’t matter because they had already won the division before the first pitch was thrown.
That brings us to September 18th. With the division won and just 13 games left in the season, manager Earl Weaver opted to give his regulars a rest against the middling Indians (74-78). Of his typical everyday lineup, only shortstop Mark Belanger and left fielder Don Buford suited up for this game. If the home crowd of 5,752 had hoped to see Boog Powell or Frank Robinson or Brooks Robinson or Davey Johnson, they were out of luck. But they did at least get to see a walkoff win.
The Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning after two walks and a single loaded the bases for a young Don Baylor, who was making his major league debut at the age of 21. Baylor made a good first impression, going the opposite way for a two-run single to right field.
The backup Birds came together for another run in the fourth inning, when backup-to-the-backup catcher Johnny Oates singled and came in to score on a triple by Bobby Grich, who was not yet the star we remember him as. On this date, he was just 21 years old, playing in his 25th career game. The Orioles might have added on another run in the inning but the rookie Grich got thrown out at the plate on a ground ball first base. The very next batter singled, which would have easily knocked in Grich at third.
The three-run lead didn’t hold, though. Starting pitcher Tom Phoebus put up zeroes through the first five innings but couldn’t make it last. In the sixth he gave up a three-run homer to Duke Sims that tied the game. Could have used that extra run, Bobby!
The Orioles had a chance to go ahead in the seventh inning with two on and just one out, but first baseman Terry Crowley, who I have heard was lucky to be in baseball, grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The eighth and ninth innings were quiet for both the Orioles and Indians, with the only base runner being then Indian and future Oriole John Lowenstein, who tripled in the eighth.
Extra innings stretched to the 11th, where the rookies came up big again. Roger Freed, who was playing right field instead of Frank Robinson and also making his major league debut, walked. He was pinch run for by the speedy Paul Blair, who immediately stole second and went to third when the second baseman made an error on the throw.
That set the table for Baylor, who again served up a single to right field. Blair scored from third and the Orioles wrapped up their 97th win of the year in walk-off style. Not bad with the regulars on the bench!
Who was the Most Birdland Player for September 18, 1970?
This poll is closed
Don Baylor (major league debut, 3 RBI, walk-off hit)
Tom Phoebus (quality start before they were a thing)