Editor’s Note: I’d like to welcome Bill Pemstein, who’s going to be looking back on O’s history, to our group of writers here at Orioles Nation. He worked in the Washington office of the Orioles from 1983-1987 and wrote “A Stone’s Throw”, a book that details the 1980 season of Cy Young Award winner Steve Stone. What follows is his intro piece.
I was in my Aunt Lillian’s apartment in Northern Virginia. It was October 4, 1969 and there was talk in the family that we were moving to Florida. That must have weighed in on me and to boot, my favorite team in the world was losing. The Baltimore Orioles were simply dominating in the ’69 season and yet, Twins pitcher Jim Perry was three outs from beating the O’s in the first American League playoff game ever.
My cousin Jay was a good 10 years older than me and he looked at me. I was crying. My younger cousins were in town from New York and couldn’t care less about the game. They wondered what was wrong with cousin Billy. I spotted Jay looking at me and then he turned away. I muttered out loud in my cracked voice that Boog was coming up.
We had out-hit the Twins easily. Mike Cuellar had pitched well. However, after carefully walking slugger Harmon Killebrew in the seventh, the Cuban southpaw looked in at Tony Oliva. Oliva’s two-run blast gave the Western Division champions a 3-2 lead.
And Perry took that 3-2 lead to the ninth at Memorial Stadium. And then Boog homered to right field. Boog had come through. Even my cousins were screaming. They couldn’t believe their country cousin had prayed that Boog would do something.
It was a game in which Frank Robinson had homered. And so had the Blade. Yes, the late Mark Belanger hit an oh so rare homer off Perry. Brooks Robinson had four hits in this game but Powell’s bat had only tied the game. This game went to extra innings. The O’s bullpen checked with lefty Pete Richert in the ninth. Side-arming Eddie Watt was next and he gave the Birds two hitless innings.
In the 12th, Killebrew stood on third after a wild pitch by Marcelino Lopez. The call went to the bullpen to get the scholarly Dick Hall. He struck out Leo Cardenas. He got pinch-hitter Johnny Roseboro on a fly out. The game went to the bottom of 12.
And I recall telling my cousins that Blair was bunting.
Paul Blair had a terrific 1969. He had scored 102 runs. The speedster hit a career-high 26 homers and hit .285. But in this first AL playoff game, he was hitless. How good would he had been if a Ken Tatum pitch didn’t rob him of a brilliant career?
Belanger had singled and stood on third with one out. Ron Perranoski was in his fourth inning of relief for Minnesota. He stared in to see Blair. And Blair dropped one down the third base line. Belanger scored and the great Orioles were 4-3 winners.
Of course, the 69 World Series gave us an unhappy ending. I blame my parents for moving that week to Florida. If I had been in my house in Falls Church, VA, we would have blitzed the Mets. Instead, I heard the first game on the radio and Buford (Don) homered to start the series and we were off.
And then I went to school and missed all those terrible happenings.