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Retro Orioles recap: Cuellar’s historic homer leads O’s over Twins in Game 1 of ALCS

The Orioles ace struggled on the mound, but made history with his bat.

Baltimore Orioles

This game took place on October 3, 1970. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to coronavirus.

Prior to the 1969 season, MLB kept their playoffs simple. The team with the best record in the AL took on the team with the best record in the NL. That’s it. They called it the “World Series” and gave the winner a trophy.

In 1969, the playoffs expanded to include four teams, winners of the AL East, AL West, NL East and NL West and added a final for each league prior to the World Series. The Orioles won the inaugural ALCS in 1969 and hoped to do the same in 1970.

This matchup with the AL West champion Minnesota Twins was set up to be a pitcher’s duel of a series. These two teams represented the lowest ERAs in the sport, and Game 1 would see 1969 AL Cy Young winner Mike Cuellar take on 1970 AL Cy Young winner Jim Perry. So, this should be a low-scoring affair, right?

Not so much.

The Twins got on the board first. In the bottom of the opening frame, Harmon Killebrew singled home Cesar Tovar to give the home team an early 1-0 lead.

It didn’t take long for the O’s to get their bats going either. Singles from Elrod Hendricks and Brooks Robinson followed by Davey Johnson being hit by a pitch loaded the bases for Mark Belanger in the top of the second inning. Belanger hit a ground ball to shortstop Leo Cardenas, who tossed to second base for the force out as Hendricks crossed home plate. Twins second baseman Danny Thompson attempted to make it a double play, but a poor throw got past the first baseman and allowed Robinson to score as well, giving the O’s a 2-1 advantage.

The game would be tied once again in the bottom of the second inning. George Mitterwald singled and Thompson doubled ahead of Perry, who laid down a squeeze bunt to score Mitterwald, knotting things at two runs apiece.

That is where the game would stop being close. The Orioles came to bat in the fourth inning tied, but would leave the inning with a monster lead in hand and another spot in the history books.

Frank Robinson and Hendricks led off with a pair of singles. Frank then scored on a Brooks sacrifice fly to make it 3-2. Two more singles from Johnson and Belanger loaded the bases, and up stepped Cuellar.

It had not been a particularly shining pitching performance from the Orioles lefty, but the lack of a DH still allowed him to provide a boost to his team’s efforts, and boy did he. With a swing of the bat Cuellar launched a ball towards the foul pole in right field at Minnestoa’s Metropolitan Stadium and, in front of a crowd of nearly 27,000, became the first and only pitcher to hit a grand slam in the championship series.

The long ball gave the O’s a 7-2 lead, but the inning wasn’t over. Don Buford immediately followed Cuellar’s home run with a home run of his own to make it an 8-2 game. And Boog Powell finished things up with yet another solo shot to extend the lead to 9-2.

Cuellar’s historic round-tripper wouldn’t improve his pitching that day. The Twins got one run back immediately in the bottom of the fourth on a Tovar single.

Minnesota added three more runs in the fifth inning. Killebrew led off with a home run, and then George Mitterwald knocked in a pair of runs with a single, which effectively gave Cuellar the boot after 4.1 innings of work.

Cuellar’s line for the night looks pretty rough. Over those 4.1 frames he gave up six runs on 10 hits, a walk, two strikeouts and a home run. But that isn’t what anyone recalls from this opening game of the playoffs. What sticks in the mind is a pitcher breaking a close game wide open with a historic home run.

With both starting pitchers now removed the scoring was just about over. Powell drove in one final run in the sixth inning on a single to bring home Buford, who had walked earlier. That gave us our final score of 10-6.

Meanwhile, Orioles reliever Dick Hall put in one heck of a performance out of the bullpen. He not only got out of Cuellar’s mess in the fifth inning with a double play, but he completely shut down the Twins lineup.

In his 4.2 innings on the mound, Hall did not allow any runs, struck out three and gave up just one hit. Deservedly so, the 40-year-old earned the win to begin this best-of-five ALCS.

Apart from Cuellar’s long ball and Hall’s impressive relief appearance, it was a banner day for the Orioles lineup. The only starter to not reach base was Paul Blair, who took an 0-for-5. Brooks was perfect from the plate, going 3-for-3 with a double, a sacrifice fly and an RBI. Powell and Hendricks each had multi-hit games.

Poll

Who was the Most Birdland Player for October 3, 1970 (ALCS Game 1)?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Mike Cuellar (poor pitching, but hit a grand slam!)
    (26 votes)
  • 60%
    Dick Hall (W, 4.2 scoreless relief innings)
    (40 votes)
66 votes total Vote Now