During the coronavirus delay of the MLB season, Camden Chat has been running a series of retro recaps of the 1970 championship season. Today’s Game 5, where the Orioles clinched the World Series, was played on October 15, 1970.
They called them the Big Red Machine. From 1970 to 1979, the Cincinnati Reds won their division six times, appeared in the World Series four times, and won it twice.
In the 1970 season, the Reds won 102 games in the regular season and they swept the Pirates in the National League Championship Series. They had future Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Johnny Bench, an eventual HOF skipper in Sparky Anderson, and future hit king Pete Rose. This team was a legend in its own right, and the 1970 Orioles only needed five games to send them packing.
The Orioles, as any O’s fan is always proud to remind someone who disrespects the history of the franchise, had their own quartet of Hall of Famers in the series: Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, manager Earl Weaver. Those are the guys whose names are written the biggest in baseball lore, but much like it was for most of the 108-win regular season, it was a whole team effort that led the O’s to their 9-3 win in Game 5 to clinch the whole thing.
Game 5 ended a lot better than it started out. The Orioles trailed, 3-0, before they ever even had a chance to bat. The Reds put four hits in play against starter Mike Cuellar, including a two-run double by left fielder Hal McRae, leaving the O’s in an early deficit.
The O’s weren’t in the hole left along. After Mark Belanger, serving as leadoff hitter for reasons inscrutable 50 years later, was retired to start the game, Paul Blair singled and scored when Frank Robinson hit a two-run homer to cut the deficit to 3-2. This was Robinson’s third home run of the series.
From there, the Orioles went on to score all nine of their runs unanswered. They tied up the game and then took the lead the very next inning when Reds starter Jim Merritt was chased after going through the O’s lineup just once. Belanger came up with two men on base and came through with a game-tying single. Blair followed with another single to put the Orioles on top, where they stayed for good.
After that rocky first inning, Cuellar settled in for what turned out to be a masterful complete game performance in the clincher. The Reds only got another three baserunners for the remainder of the game beyond the first inning, and they didn’t get a runner into scoring position again until the seventh, when Cuellar, facing men on first and second with one out, got the next batter to ground into a double play.
Meanwhile, the Orioles offense just kept on scoring. They added two more runs in the third inning as three of their first four batters picked up hits. Merv Rettenmund and Davey Johnson each drove in runs in the inning.
For Johnson, who had three hits in this decisive game, those were the fifth and sixth runs batted in for the series. He was one of four Orioles in the starting lineup to finish the five-game series with an OPS over 1.000. Brooks Robinson was a mere 1-5 in this final game and still batted .485/.471/.788 across the series. That was good enough to earn him the World Series MVP when all was said and done.
With nine hits across the series, Brooks batted in the ninth inning with a chance for a tenth hit, which would be a record in a five game World Series that would still stand today (h/t talknats.com.) Alas, Brooks struck out looking, and will have to settle for all of the other ways that his career was superlative and legendary.
The fact that Brooks went through the series - and his career - making plays like this one surely doesn’t hurt his case. This is almost exactly like what Robinson did to Lee May in Game 1 of the series in what is maybe the most legendary defensive play in Orioles history, except in Game 5, May fell over scampering out of the batter’s box, so it looked even easier for Brooks.
Fittingly, the final play of the series was also a ground ball hit to Brooks. You can see it, along with the celebration, beginning here. It’s not as iconic a moment as the photo of Brooks leaping after they won it all in 1966, but it’s still pretty good.
It’s funny to watch today too, because it sure looks like scattered random Orioles fans made their way out into the periphery of the dogpile before some semblance of order was restored. A couple of kids ended up with memories of a lifetime as they plopped down on top of the Orioles dugout and watched the team pass through on the way to the locker room to celebrate in earnest. There was no one there to stop them.
It’ll be a nice day when the Orioles are able to win it all again. Hopefully I live long enough to see it.
Box score from Baseball Reference. If you’re really interested, you can watch the full video of this game on the MLB Vault YouTube channel.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Game 5 of the 1970 World Series?
This poll is closed
Mike Cuellar (CG, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 SO)
Davey Johnson (3-4, BB, 2 RBI)
Merv Rettenmund (2-4, HR, 2 RBI)
Frank Robinson (2-5, HR, 2 RBI)