Today’s Postseason Series From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is the 1971 World Series. The Baltimore Orioles were the three time defending American League Champions and reigning World Series Champions. They famously featured four 20-game winning starting pitchers, a feat that hadn’t been matched since the 1920 White Sox. The pitching was really all about the starters – of the 1415.1 innings 1081 were thrown by the starters, including 71 complete games. They were more than just pitching, though. The Orioles led the AL in runs, average, and OBP. This was an older team, too. The average age was just below 30, and the main stars were on the wrong side of their primes. Frank Robinson was 35, Brooks was 34, Boog Powell was 29, Cuellar 34. Only Jim Palmer was young, at 25.
The Pirates were a much younger team. Of their main players, only future Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente was over 30. The Pirates scored 46 more runs than the Orioles did, but had a team ERA a third of a run higher.
The series opened in Baltimore on Saturday, October 9. Pittsburgh got the scoring started in the second when Manny Sanguillen reached on an error by shortstop Mark Belanger, followed by a safety squeeze then an RBI single, giving the Pirates a 3-0 lead. Frank Robinson got one back for the Orioles in the bottom half with a leadoff homer and the Orioles took the lead when Merv Rettenmund hit a three run shot the next inning. Don Buford added a third homer in the fifth, and that was more than enough for Dave McNally, who went the distance for a 5-3 Orioles win. Game 2 all Baltimore. They got the scoring going in the second with a Brooks Robinson RBI single. In the fourth Davey Johnson added two run single, chasing started Bob Johnson. A bases loaded walk to Jim Palmer made the score 4-0. Then in the fifth the Orioles piled on. Back to back singles scored three runs, then another bases loaded walk to Palmer (remember, he’s the freaking pitcher), and after Rettenmund singled in Belanger the game was over. Palmer gave up a three run homer to Richie Hebner in the eighth, but that was all the Pirates could muster in an 11-3 Baltimore win and a 2-0 series lead. When the series shifted to Pittsburgh the Pirates started to find their bats. Bob Robertson had the big blast, a three run homer in the seventh to make a one run lead a four run win, 5-1. The Orioles went into Game 4 trying to regain control of the series. In the first they started off with three straight singles to load the bases. After a passed ball by Sanguillen, Frank Robinson was intentionally walked. Sac flies by Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell made the score 3-0. Pittsburgh came right back. After a leadoff walk Pat Dobson got Hebner to pop out and Clemente to strike out. Then Willie Stargell doubled to and Al Oliver followed with another double to make the score 3-2 after one. Then in the third Oliver again answered with two outs, singling in the tying run. The game remained tied until the seventh. With one out Robertson and Sanguillen singled. Then pinch hitter Vic Davalillo hit a fly ball to left center. Centerfielder Paul Blair dashed into the alley and reached out for the ball but dropped it. Robertson held up then took off for third, but Sanguillen was at full speed and nearly overran his teammate. He was thrown out at second, making it two outs instead of the bases loaded with one out. Pinch hitter Milt May came through with an RBI single. It turned out to be the difference as Dave Guisti retired all six hitters he faced without a ball leaving the infield. With the series now tied 2-2 Baltimore send Game 1 winner Dave McNally to the mound while the Pirates went with Nelson Briles for the first time in the postseason. Robertson got the scoring going in the second with a leadoff homerun, and Briles helped his own cause with an RBI single to make the score 2-0. That turned out to be all the Pirates would need as Briles pitched a two hit complete game shutout for a 4-0 Pirates win and a 3-2 series lead as they headed back to Baltimore. Game 6 looked bleak for the Orioles as Robertson again started the scoring in the second, this time an RBI single. Clemente added a one out solo homerun in the third to make it 2-0. It remained that way until the sixth, when Don Buford led off with a homerun to cut the lead in half. Then in the seventh Belanger singled and stole second with two out and after Giusti walked Buford Davey Johnson singled to tie the game. The game went into extra innings, then in the tenth Frank Robinson drew a one out walk and after Rettenmund singled him to third, Brooks Robinson hit a sac fly to give the Orioles the win and the fans a seventh game. For Game 7 Earl Weaver went with veteran and reigning Cy Young co-winner Mike Cuellar while Danny Murtaugh went with Steve Blass. The game was scoreless through the first three frames, then with two out Roberto Clemente too Cuellar deep to left center to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead. It remained that way until the eighth when Willie Stargell led off with a single and Jose Pagan followed with a double to score Stargell, giving the Pirates a 2-0 lead. In the bottom of the eighth Elrod Hendricks and Belanger hit back to back singles, then after a bunt Buford hit a grounder to first, scoring Hendricks. That was all they could get, though. Blass held on and got the last three in the ninth, giving the Pirates the series win.
Two side notes. First, the Game 7 winner Steve Blass became known for his remarkable loss of control. After walking 84 hitters in 1972 (out of 1024 batters faced) he walked 84 of the 455 he faced in 1973, and hit 12 more of them. In 1974 he threw only five innings and face 28 hitters. They were all on April 17. He also gave up five hits and eight runs. When he left the mound it was for the last time. His career was done at 32 years old.
Second, the MVP of the series was Roberto Clemente, who was 12-29 with five extra base hits. In 1972, at age 37, collected 118 hits, the last being the 3,000th of his career. Then on New Year’s Eve of that year he was on a plane in an effort to help the citizens of Managua, Nicaragua after an earthquake devastated the city. The plane never left Puerto Rico. Immediately after takeoff the plane crashed of the shore of Isle Verde. None of the bodies were ever recovered.