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Retro Orioles recap: Frank blasts one out of Memorial as O’s tie for first place

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Frank Robinson homered in both halves of a doubleheader against Cleveland, including the only home run ever to leave Memorial Stadium.

Frank Robinson Home Run
Frank Robinson has left the yard.

This doubleheader took place on May 8, 1966. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to the lockout.

It was the first time, and it would also be the last. On May 8, 1966, during Game Two of an Orioles doubleheader sweep, the Orioles’ slugging right fielder Frank Robinson blasted a mammoth 541-foot home run out of Memorial Stadium, the first and only time anyone would do so.

For Baltimore, the days’ heroics meant an important bump in the standings, sending the Orioles into a first-place tie with the Cleveland Indians. For the near-record 49,516 fans in attendance, it was an early way-station in the Orioles’ dance with destiny that year.

Not that the outcome of Sunday’s doubleheader was ever much in doubt.

Hall of Famer Jim Palmer silenced the first-place Indians offense in Game One, holding hitters to three measly singles and two runs over nine innings. It was just one of an astonishing 211 complete games Palmer threw in his 19-year career, and with the help of Baltimore’s big bats, he made it look easy.

The Orioles jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead as left fielder Curt Blefary took Sonny Siebert deep in the bottom of the first. That score would hold until the fifth inning, where a Boog Powell homer and three consecutive Orioles hits plated three more runs: an RBI single by Andy Etchebarren scored Davey Johnson and Luis Aparicio drove in Etchebarren. It could have been more, but on the earlier play the speedy Paul Blair got thrown out at home.

Cleveland didn’t have a hit off Palmer until the sixth, but they momentarily threatened the four-run lead. Centerfielder Vic Davalillo reached on a rare E6 by Luis Aparicio, who misplayed a slow roller, and he advanced to third on a single and a walk. Davalillo scored the Tribe’s first run on a GIDP off the bat of Rocky Colavito. A single plated a second run.

The Birds answered back in the bottom half. Brooks Robinson doubled and Boog Powell sent him home with an RBI single. Two consecutive singles later, Powell would score to make it 6-2 Baltimore.

The Orioles capped off the game with two more runs. Frank Robinson homered (he was just warming up) ahead of a Paul Blair double and an RBI single by Jim Palmer himself! Think about how often you see the starting pitcher driving in a run in the bottom of the eighth... even in 1966 it must have been a rare feat.

In Game Two, Cleveland managed marginally more offense, but not a different result. The Birds started the right-hander Wally Bunker, runner-up for Rookie of the Year two seasons before. Bunker won 10 games in 1966, but this shaky outing was not one of them.

Bunker allowed three runs on four hits and three walks and was yanked with the bases loaded in the fourth. 22-year-old left-hander Frank Bertaina came on in relief and was lights out, shutting down the brewing Cleveland rally and blanking the Tribe over the remaining five innings of the game. Bertaina struck out five and walked none.

By this point, though, Cleveland was in a 5-3 hole. Robinson had launched his mammoth blast two-run blast in the first inning ahead of a Curt Blefary RBI single. In the third, a pair of walks presented 2B Davey Johnson and catcher Vic Roznovsky with an RBI opportunity they did not miss: their two consecutive singles scored the Orioles’ fourth and fifth runs.

In the seventh inning, Baltimore clinched the Sunday sweep with three runs off Cleveland rookie reliever Tom Kelley. Frank Robinson tripled into the right-field corner, Brooks Robinson doubled to the right-center gap, and Boog Powell launched one over the centerfield fence to put the game away, as the Birds took Game Two by a score of 8-3.

It was a massive day of offense for Baltimore, which as a team thwacked 27 hits and five long balls on the day. Boog Powell homered in both halves of the contest, singled twice, and drove in four runs. Curt Blefary added a homer, a double and a single. Brooks Robinson hit a pair of doubles and so did Paul Blair. Of course, as the Baltimore Sun’s Lou Hatter wrote in his recap the next day, “The illustrious potentate of all the heroes, though, was the 30-year-old Robinson, who became the first player ever to hit a fair ball completely out of Memorial Stadium.”

In the first inning of Game Two, Robinson was facing hotshot Luis Tiant, who was coming off three consecutive shutouts. Robinson took a Tiant fastball deep. Way deep: the ball flew some 450 feet in the air, clearing the football press box (at the time, Memorial Stadium was shared with the Baltimore Colts), some 50 rows of bleachers, and a 12-foot camera before finally landing on the street, where it rolled another 100 feet before being discovered by a pair of teenagers. Upon learning that this was the first ball ever hit out of Memorial Stadium, the season-high crowd stood and stopped play with a minute-long ovation for Robinson.

The next week, Baltimore would mark the spot Robinson’s ball left the yard with an orange flag labeled simply, “Here.” The flag flew until Memorial Stadium closed its doors in 1991.

Meanwhile, Baltimore was entering a hard-fought battle that summer with Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago for control of the American League.

Poll

Who was the Most Birdland Player for May 8, 1966?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Jim Palmer (CG, 0 ER in game one)
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Boog Powell (4-for-8, 2 HR)
    (4 votes)
  • 95%
    Frank Robinson (5-for-7, 2 HR, hit one out of the ballpark)
    (140 votes)
147 votes total Vote Now