This doubleheader took place on September 15, 1966. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to the lockout.
By mid-September 1966, the Orioles were coasting to the American League title. But although it was just a matter of time, on September 15th they had lost four game in a row and had seen their once double-digit lead in the league shrink to “just” 9.5 games.
But a doubleheader sweep of the California Angels got them back on track with two exciting wins. The first game saw a complete game shutout from a rookie, Tom Phoebus, making his major league debut. And the second featured ninth inning excitement that saw a blown lead in the top of the ninth followed by a walk off win in the bottom half.
At the end of the day the Orioles had a magic number of just seven and would clinch the pennant the following week.
The starting pitcher for game one, Tom Phoebus, had toiled in the minor leagues for seven seasons before finally getting called up in September 1966. Phoebus was a local player, born just two miles from Memorial Stadium. His so-called fan club (family and neighbors) had staged a protest the month earlier to get him brought up to the majors after he had thrown a no-hitter for the Rochester Red Wings. He finally got his chance and he made the most of it.
Phoebus was never really in trouble, but he got stronger as the game went on. He gave up a single in the first, but his catcher Andy Etchebarren threw the runner out trying to steal. In the second, Phoebus walked a batter and had a wild pitch, but again got out of it. From there on it was pretty much smooth sailing for the rookie.
He faced just three batters each in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, and worked around a single in the sixth. The Orioles’ offense had been quiet up to that point, but in the bottom of the sixth they finally got on the board courtesy of back-to-back homers. The first came from everyone’s favorite baseball player, Brooks Robinson. Next, Phoebus got support from a fellow local player, Curt Blefary. The resulting two-run lead was more than Phoebus would need.
From there, the Orioles sailed to victory. With the final out of the game, Phoebus struck out his eighth batter of the game. His final pitching line was 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K. Not a bad major league debut! O’s win, 2-0.
After the feel good win in game one, the Orioles sent another rookie to the mound, Eddie Watt. Watt had been with the team the entire season, but had spent most of the year in the bullpen. He broke into the rotation in late July with mixed results, but there wasn’t much to complain about on this day.
Watt retired 16 of the first 17 batters that he faced and through eight innings gave up just three hits and walk. An RBI double from Frank Robinson in the second inning and a two-run homer from Blefary in the eighth inning made it look like Watt would cruise to the CGSO just as Phoebus did. But trouble came calling in the ninth.
The top of the ninth started with a single from Paul Schaal, but then Watt retired the next two batters. But after issuing a walk to put a second runner on and going 2-0 on the next batter, manager Hank Bauer had seen enough. He pulled Watt mid-batter for Moe Drabowsky. Drabowsky was pretty useless, as he finished the walk to load the bases and then gave up a two-run single. Nooo, what are you doing Orioles!
But don’t fear, the Orioles prevailed. Just not yet. New relief pitcher Eddie Fisher got a ground ball to shortstop and defensive wiz Luis Aparicio. That should do it! But nooo, Aparicio made a bad throw and the tying run came in to score.
Fisher got the the final out and kept the game tied so that the O’s offense could come to the rescue. With Sam Bowens on second base with one out, pinch hitter Russ Snyder was intentionally walked. That gave the chance to the second pinch hitter, Charlie Lau. Lau launched a ball to right-center field that easily scored Bowens. Orioles win. 4-3! Doubleheader sweep!
Who was the Most Birdland Player for September 15, 1966?
Tom Phoebus (CGSO in major league debut)
Curt Blefary (home run in both games)
Charlie Lau (pinch-hit walk-off single)