This game took place on June 25, 1970. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to coronavirus.
On June 25, 1970, the first-place Orioles faced off against the fourth-place Red Sox, who sat ten games behind the Birds in the A.L. East standings. After winning the first game in the series, the Orioles dropped two straight and were looking to split the four-game road series and maintain their 2.5 game lead over the second-place Yankees.
They would eventually get that win, although it took five hours and some heroics by Frank Robinson to do so. The pitching matchup for the game featured lefty Mike Cuellar for the Orioles and Mike Nagy for the Red Sox. Cuellar was the reigning Cy Young award winner for the American League, but the first half of the 1970 season was not his best, including this game.
Through the first five innings, the Red Sox knocked Cuellar around and looked well on their way to a series win. They started the game with three straight singles and a sacrifice fly to go up by a score of 2-0, but then they got greedy and fell victim to the Orioles’ stellar defense. Rico Petrocelli singled to left field and Carl Yastrzemski tried to move first to third only to be gunned down by Don Buford.
The very next batter, George Scott, also singled to left field. This time it was Petrocelli who tried to go first to third and again Buford fired the ball to Brooks Robinson at third base to nab the base runner. Outstanding!
Still, the Orioles were down by two runs and it would only get worse from there. While Nagy was holding down the O’s offense, Cuellar gave up a solo home run in the second and was then pulled from the game in the fifth inning after he loaded the bases without recording an out. He was replaced by Dave Leonhard, who allowed all three runs to score, plus one of his own. His was unearned though, because it scored on an error by...Brooks Robinson? That can’t be right. Did Brooks make errors?
Surely the Red Sox were feeling confident as the sixth inning started, but they shouldn’t have, because that’s when the Orioles started to come back. Nagy suddenly couldn’t retire any Orioles, starting Frank Robinson. He blasted his 12th home run of the year to get the Orioles on the board, and it was just the beginning.
Singles from Boog Powell and Merv Rettenmund set the table for Brooks Robinson, who made up for his earlier error with an RBI single. Davey Johnson followed that with the big blow: a three-run homer. There is some kind of saying that came out of this time in Orioles history, right? Pitching, defense, and three-run homers? Well, the Orioles got two out of three in this game.
The Orioles had cut the Red Sox lead to just two runs, but would they be able to make up the rest? Obviously, yes, or I wouldn’t be retro-recapping this game. But it did take them a few innings. The Red Sox held their two-run lead until the ninth inning and Sparky Lyle tried to close out the game. With one out he gave up a solo home run to Rettenmund. Brooks Robinson then singled, and in a fun twist he was pinch-run for by Jim Palmer. The 24-year-old Palmer made five appearances in 1970 as a pinch runner.
After moving to second on a wild pitch, Palmer scored the game tying-run on a double by Andy Etchebarren. That drove Lyle from the game in favor of Vicente Romo. Pinch hitter Paul Blair came to the plate looking to drive in the go-ahead run, but instead he grounded out to end the inning.
The 7-7 tie would hold for 4.5 innings. Way back in the second paragraph I mentioned the heroics of Frank Robinson. I know you’ve been waiting to hear about that, so let’s get it started!
In the bottom of the 13th inning, pitcher Moe Drabowsky was having a tough time. Reggie Smith blasted a ball to right field that looked like it would be a walk-off home run (even if that wasn’t a saying back then), but Frank Robinson made a leaping catch to rob him and save the game. Drabowsky walked two in the inning after that but was able to get the final two outs without allowing a run to score.
And then, finally, the Orioles broke through in a big way. A bunt single from Etchebarren and a walk by Blair put two runners on for Buford, who got the go-ahead RBI. Two batters later, with the bases loaded, Frank Robinson stepped to the plate.
If you’re an opposing team in 1970, the person you really don’t want to see come to the plate with the bases loaded is Frank Robinson. But unbeknownst to the Red Sox, Frank had injured himself on the game-saving catch. Here is the account from Peter Gammons, who was covering the game that night:
“Frank made a game-saving catch in the 13th...But he cracked a rib on the fence railing and couldn’t swing the bat properly. Without tipping off the Red Sox fielders in the top of the 14th, he crossed up everybody by laying down a bunt with a runner on third and beating it out, driving in a run.”
The RBI bunt-single was Robinson’s first bunt in 12 years and kept the inning going for Powell and Rettenmund, who hit back-to-back RBI doubles to give the Orioles a commanding 13-7 lead. Drabowsky gave up a home run in the bottom of the 14th but it was too little, too late for the Red Sox and the Orioles won, 13-8.
Who was the Most Birdland Player on June 25, 1970?
This poll is closed
Frank Robinson (HR, game saving catch, RBI bunt single with a broken rib)
Don Buford (4-for-7, threw out two runners at third, go-ahead RBI in 14th)
Moe Drabowsky (5 IP in relief, 1 run, three hits)
Jim Palmer (scored game-tying run as pinch runner, I’m sure looked good doing so)
Box score from Baseball Reference. The Peter Gammons quote was taken from The Baltimore Orioles: 40 Years of Magic from 33rd Street to Camden Yards.