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Retro Orioles recap: Frank Robinson HR, McNally CGSO give O’s first World Series title

Behind Dave McNally, the Orioles shut out the Dodgers for the third straight game on the way to winning the World Series.

Reds v Orioles
Dave McNally’s shutout helped the Orioles secure their first ever World Series title. (This photo is from 1970, not 1966.)
Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

“The Orioles have won the World Series!” These are words that have not been spoken except for in the dreams of anyone who is at least 38 years old. Until October 9, 1966, they had never been spoken at all, when the surprising Orioles finished off an unlikely sweep of the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers to take home the trophy.

This was a game from a different era. Both starting pitchers went the distance in a 1-0 game that took just one hour and 45 minutes to play. The game, like every other game in that World Series, was played in the daytime. The winning Orioles and the losing Dodgers each picked up four hits. Though the game was played in Baltimore, there was no designated hitter. That was still seven years away from arriving in the American League.

Each team returned to its Game 1 starter for what turned out to be the finale of the series. Neither Orioles pitcher Dave McNally or Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale did well in the first game, as you know if you read Tyler’s Game 1 recap. McNally was lucky to allow only two runs while issuing five walks over a 2.1 inning start. Drysdale was lifted after two innings in which he allowed five runs, including back-to-back home runs to Frank and Brooks Robinson.

The second time around went better for both of these guys. This was an honest-to-goodness pitcher’s duel, as opposed to when modern baseball announcers proclaim a game that’s 3-2 in the sixth inning to be a pitcher’s duel, and then neither starting pitcher ends up tossing a pitch in the seventh.

A person more accustomed to modern baseball’s level of excitement might be forgiven for thinking the game was boring. Not only did the teams have four hits each, they also only had three walks between the two of them. One of the game’s eight hits went for extra bases. The teams combined for just three at-bats with a runner in scoring position.

It wasn’t like McNally and Drysdale were dominating with strikeouts, either. Drysdale had five, McNally four. There were a lot of drama-free balls in play. For the 54,458 Orioles fans of 1966 packed into Memorial Stadium, I’m sure it was quite exciting. A close game brings its own inherent tension. That tension escalates the farther into a game you get. If the Orioles were ever in a potential clinching World Series game with a one-run lead, I’d be fearing a solo home run from each and every single batter and having to remind myself to breathe constantly.

As it played out, there WAS a solo home run in the game. Frank Robinson connected off of Drysdale for the second time in the series. His fourth inning bomb broke the scoreless tie and proved to be the game’s only run.

From there, McNally and the Orioles defense took over. The very next inning after Robinson’s home run, Dodgers second baseman Jim Lefebvre led off with a single. He was erased promptly by a ground ball double play, Brooks Robinson to Davey Johnson to Boog Powell. If I could take one and only one observer-only time travel trip, I’d be strongly tempted to go watch Brooks in his prime. At the time of the 1966 Series, he’d won six of his eventual 16 Gold Gloves.

The sixth inning saw another Dodgers leadoff man reach base. #8 batter and third baseman John Kennedy, who I have to assume got tired of being asked if he was related to the 35th president, got the party going with a single. This brought up Drysdale.

Pitchers were only slightly better at hitting then than they are today. Drysdale OPSed .475 in the 1966 season. If ever there was a situation that called for a sacrifice bunt, this might have been it. There was no bunt, or at least not one that survives into the Baseball Reference play log.

Drysdale struck out, and on the strikeout pitch, Kennedy tried to steal second base. Catcher Andy Etchebarren fired to Johnson, who tagged out Kennedy. The All-Star catcher threw out 39% of runners during the season. Kennedy had one stolen base in three attempts. Whoops.

Los Angeles did not get another baserunner after Kennedy until the ninth inning. Down to their final two outs with Drysdale due up, the Dodgers sent in Al Ferrara as a pinch hitter. He was only 5-36 in those situations for the season, but with hopes of avoiding a World Series sweep dwindling, he singled off of McNally to at least get the tying run on base.

This could have led to trouble. The lineup turned over to Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills, who drew a walk. Now the tying run was in scoring position and the go-ahead run on base! No problem. Willie Davis lined out to right and Lou Johnson flew out to center and that was that. The Orioles won the World Series. You’ve probably seen the picture of Brooks looking like he’s flying. What a moment. Imagine seeing this! I can’t imagine it. It’s too wonderful.

Remarkably, the Orioles held the Dodgers scoreless from the fourth inning of Game 1 on through the end of Game 4. The Dodgers scoring just two runs in a World Series set a new record for fewest runs scored in the championship. That record still stands today. No World Series winner has ever had its pitching and defense dominate a team so thoroughly as the 1966 Orioles.

In winning this championship, the Orioles became the first American League team other than the Yankees to win the World Series since 1948. They beat a Dodgers franchise that had won four titles since 1955. As we all know now, this was the start of an Orioles dynasty, with the 1970 championship and AL pennants in 1969 and 1971 still to come for the same core group.

Whenever a World Series is played in recent years, I like to look at the rosters and try to guess how many future Hall of Famers just played. It’s fun to look back on old matchups where it was legend against legend. That’s what it feels like a World Series should be: The best fighting it out against the best.

The ‘66 one did not disappoint by this standard, although maybe not everyone knew it at the time. The Dodgers used future HOFers Drysdale and Sandy Koufax in this series, with rookie future HOFer Don Sutton unused in reserve. They were managed by another future Hall guy, Walter Alston.

The Orioles had both Robinsons, Luis Aparicio, and Jim Palmer. That’s a lot of Cooperstown plaques for one matchup. People were surely surprised by the O’s sweep at the time, but there’s nothing shocking about it now. This was a great Orioles team with some of baseball’s all-time greats leading it. Baltimore old-timers have the advantage over the rest of us to have been able to see them.

Family lore says that Game 4 of the 1966 World Series was the only time my dad has ever actively rooted against the Orioles. They had tickets for the Game 5 that never happened and so they were disappointed by the sweep. Dad did get several more chances and was there for the most recent World Series game to be played in Baltimore, Game 2 of the 1983 series. I’m still waiting for my chance. Maybe some day.