SI Vault
William Leggett
October 25, 1971
Roberto Clemente and a no-name crew of pitchers Pirated away a World Series that mighty Baltimore had all but banked
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 25, 1971

Some Kind Of A Comeback

Roberto Clemente and a no-name crew of pitchers Pirated away a World Series that mighty Baltimore had all but banked

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

His afternoon snack—Oriole, well done—had been much more satisfying. One of Baltimore's four 20-game winners, Mike Cuellar, had been beaten, and now the Pirates figured that the others wouldn't be quite such formidable obstacles as they had once appeared.

So on Wednesday they went to work on Pat Dobson. The first night game in Series history brought out the biggest baseball crowd (51,378) ever in Pittsburgh as well as an estimated 61 million home TV viewers to their sets. And for one short stretch at the beginning they must have wondered why. The Orioles scored three quick runs off Luke Walker in the top of the first inning, and the coup de gr�ce appeared imminent. Then a thin, 21-year-old pitcher named Bruce Kison came in from the bullpen to relieve, and it was Kison who did the couping. He got the final out of the first inning and, following a bloop double to center field by Paul Blair in the second, set the Orioles down—on occasion quite literally; he hit three of them for a Series record—for the next six innings, allowing only two long fly balls as he moved his sidearm pitches in and out.

The game was taut and filled with point and counterpoint. Pittsburgh scored two runs in its half of the first and then tied the game in the third despite losing a huge argument that erupted when Clemente lined a ball down the right-field line and over the fence. The drive was called foul, but Clemente didn't lose any arguments with Dobson's next pitch. He rammed it into right field for the single that led to the tying run, which is the sort of thing that happens when a man is in a streak as hot as Roberto's. He was so hot, in fact, that each time he came to bat at Three Rivers the organist played Jesus Christ Superstar. He hit balls up around his ears and far out across the plate, and he made splendid catches in the outfield and ran the bases like a mere lad of 20 (he is 37).

The Pirates kept pounding Dobson and Reliever Eddie Watt, but they left men all over the bases and ran them as if drunk. So the game moved along tied into the Pirate seventh, at which point Milt May, a 21-year-old pinch hitter, settled it all by singling home the winning run. The victory really belonged to Kison, of course, who had shown the Orioles an old National League weapon. As Marty Allen, the comic and lifelong Pirate fan, said, " Spiro Agnew wouldn't have hit as many guys."

Now the momentum belonged to the Pirates. Their base running, even though erratic, was hurrying the normally efficient Orioles into one silly blunder after another, and their pitching, maligned for most of the year, had suddenly blossomed. In the fifth game Murtaugh named Nelson Briles as his starting pitcher to oppose Dave McNally.

Sometimes, the least of Briles' talents seems to be pitching. A linguist who can speak half a dozen languages, the 28-year-old righthander has played Joe Hardy in the musical version of Damn Yankees and is equipped with a fine voice. One day in 1967 the St. Louis Cardinals were leading the National League when Clemente lined a drive back at Bob Gibson, shattering the fibula in his right leg. Without Gibson, the Cards appeared doomed, but Briles picked up the slack with 14 wins against only five losses for the highest winning percentage (.737) in the league. The next year he won 19 games. Early the following spring, however, the mound was lowered, and Briles was a temporary casualty. Eventually he won 15 games, but he had great trouble adjusting to the change.

So Briles revised his delivery, and the new style was never more in evidence than in the third Series game in Pittsburgh. Briles drove so hard off the mound that he fell down three times. "My record is 11 in one game," he said. Flat out, Briles pitched the best game of his life.

As early as the first inning the Pirates began to run on the Orioles once again. In the second, Robertson homered, and right behind him Sanguillen singled, stole second and scored on a single by Briles, a good hitting pitcher. And Briles kept driving the Orioles down. In only one inning did he allow Baltimore's leadoff man to reach first, and Briles immediately took care of him with a double-play grounder.

The Pirates took advantage of Baltimore's sloppy play to get their other two runs in the 4-0 victory. A walk, a ground out, an error by Brooks Robinson and a wild pitch produced the first. The second came after Gene Clines' triple soared over Centerfielder Paul Blair's head.

In 27 innings at Pittsburgh the Pirate pitchers had held the Orioles to a total of nine hits. The team had made no errors while the Orioles had made five. Bill Mazeroski, the biggest of many heroes on Pittsburgh's 1960 World Champions, stood by his locker. "Bill," he was asked, "is this as good as it was then?" Maz looked around the clubhouse and smiled. "Things are always supposed to be better when you look back on them from 11 years," he said, "but they might not be. They just might not be."

1 2 3