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Retro Orioles recap: Baltimore clinches AL pennant on Palmer’s sixth complete game

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On the road in Kansas City, the Orioles dispatched the Athletics with a 6-1 victory paced by Frank Robinson’s three hits.

Baltimore Players Congratulating Pitcher

This game took place on September 22, 1966. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to the lockout.

The Orioles have played a lot of meaningless fall baseball over the last few years. On Thursday, September 22, 1966, the team ensured that the final week-and-a-half of the season would, in fact, be meaningless: with a decisive 6-1 trouncing of the hapless Kansas City (later Oakland) Athletics, Baltimore clinched the AL pennant.

The news came just moments after the Birds plated two runs in the sixth inning to deflate the spirits of the 5,250 A’s fans who’d come to Municipal Stadium to watch their seventh-place team take on the AL frontrunners. The center field scoreboard flashed that the second-place Detroit Tigers had lost the opener of a doubleheader, 5-3, to the California Angels. From the dugout, utility infielder Bob Johnson flashed the “safe” sign to his teammates on the field. Detroit was now mathematically eliminated from catching the Orioles for the top spot: the AL pennant was theirs.

Back then, there wasn’t much of a postseason to speak of. Instead, the winner of each league, AL and NL, went straight to a best-of-seven Fall Classic. So the events of September 22nd were a huge deal: Baltimore had just punched its ticket to the World Series.

On the field, the celebration was modest, with center fielder Russ Snyder spearheading a huddle around Jim Palmer on the mound. But pandemonium erupted soon after, with Brooks Robinson the first to rush into the visitors’ clubhouse to kick off the “wild champagne celebration.” Even team owner Jerold Hoffberger got in on the action when players picked him up and carried him into the showers.

OK, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before all of that went down, there were nine innings of afternoon baseball to play.

Things boded well for Baltimore that day. They boded well for Baltimore any day the 20-year-old Jim Palmer (then 14-9 with a 3.44 ERA in his second season) took his turn in the rotation. But the Athletics’ Lew Krausse was no slouch, either: the righty entered Thursday’s matchup with an identical win-loss record and even lower ERA than Palmer’s: 2.90.

In fact, for the briefest of spells, it looked like the Orioles could lose the game. Krausse blanked the Birds for two innings and it was Palmer who blinked first, giving up the game’s first run in the bottom of the second when rookie third baseman Sal Bando, who’d made his MLB debut just over a week earlier, knocked in a run with a double.

That put Baltimore in a 1-0 hole coming into the third, but it didn’t last long. That will happen, even to talented pitchers, when you’re facing a lineup featuring four future Hall of Famers (Luis Aparicio, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, and Jim Palmer) … but especially when you walk the leadoff hitter. (If I’d been around in 1966, I would have told Krausse: Watch out for those leadoff walks, Lew!)

Anyway, out of the leadoff spot, Aparicio got a free pass. Batting second, Russ Snyder popped out to shortstop, but Frank Robinson singled to move Aparicio to third, then stole second for good measure. Robinson was never much of a threat on the bases (this was just his eighth stolen bag of the season), but it was a well-timed steal, because it now allowed the Orioles to score two runs in the inning without recording another hit.

Bando, the author of KC’s only run, got a grounder from Brooks Robinson and booted the throw to first. Aparicio scored, tying up the game. With two Robinsons aboard, Boog Powell hit a grounder to second baseman Dick Green. Brooks had taken off running on the play, allowing the Orioles to avoid the twin killing and allowing Frank to score the Orioles’ second run. It wasn’t the prettiest RBI for Powell, who hit 34 home runs and drove in 109 runs that season, but it was an important one.

Baltimore’s slim 2-1 lead got some padding in the fifth. Snyder led off the inning with a double off Krausse and advanced to third on a wild pitch. He scored on Frank Robinson’s second hit of the game, a double to center. Cleanup hitter Brooks Robinson doubled, too, for the O’s fourth run. That was it for Krausse, whom A’s manager Alvin Dark yanked in favor of Gil Blanco, who duly snuffed the rally.

Now, it was time to protect the lead. Jim Palmer did that and more. The A’s tried to shake things up offensively by sending three pinch hitters to the plate over the final six innings, but Palmer dismantled them easily, scattering just two more hits while striking out eight en route to his sixth and final complete game of the regular season.

The top of the sixth saw Kansas City bring in Catfish Hunter, in just his second major-league season, in relief. The Orioles treated the future Hall of Famer much as they’d treated his predecessors, rallying for two more runs. Hunter quickly retired Andy Etchebarren and Palmer on a groundout and strikeout, but Aparicio hit a clutch two-out single, stole second, and scored on another Russ Snyder two-bagger. Facing Hunter, Frank Robinson hit another double, knocking in the Orioles’ sixth run and hiking his batting average and RBI total to a league-leading .316 and 120, respectively. The unstoppable Robinson was well on his way to a Triple Crown and a much-deserved AL MVP Award that year. As one exuberant game recap put it, “What Baltimore Gas and Electric was to the city’s power grid, Robinson was to the Orioles lineup” that year.

It was just a few moments later that the Orioles’ dugout erupted as the center field scoreboard flashed the news: the Detroit Tigers had fallen, and the Orioles had clinched the pennant. Two-and-a-half innings later, the game ended with a Russ Snyder diving catch in center. Brooks Robinson would later tell reporters, “I got cold chills when there were two out in the ninth. I just didn’t believe we were finally going to win it.”

For Orioles skipper Hank Bauer, who as a player had already won nine pennants with the Yankees, this one had special meaning: “None of those Yankee pennants meant as much to me as this one. It’s different when you’re the manager.”

For Baltimore fans, it was the city’s first baseball championship since 1896, when the John McGraw-led Orioles of the 1890s won three consecutive National League titles. Just how much time had elapsed since 1896? Well, that year, “‘separate but equal’ became the law of the land, the United States admitted its 45th state (Utah), and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was created.”

It was a hugely well-deserved title for the Birds, who’d led the AL since June 11. The Orioles would finish the rest of the season a sluggish 2-5 but still, having punched their World Series ticket, you could forgive them for putting their feet up and relaxing a little.

Their NL opponent in the Series was still to be determined, with the Los Angeles Dodgers still neck-and-neck with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants. But who cared? Not these Orioles. As Boog Powell said after the game: “I don’t care who we play. We’re going to give [them] a hell of a battle.”

Poll

Who was the Most Birdland Player for Sept. 22, 1966?

  • 56%
    Jim Palmer (CG, 1 R, 5 H, 1 BB, 8 K)
    (38 votes)
  • 25%
    Frank Robinson (3 H, 2 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI, SB)
    (17 votes)
  • 17%
    Russ Snyder (2 H, 2 R, 2 RBI, game-ending diving catch)
    (12 votes)
67 votes total Vote Now