The Baltimore Orioles were one of the toughest teams I ever played against. They won the World Series in 1966, my rookie year, the American League Pennant in 1969 (the first time there was a Divisional Series), the World Series in 1970, and the AL Pennant in 1971. They had an unreal team: Boog Powell at first, Davey Johnson at second, Mark Belanger at short, Brooks Robinson at third, Andy Etchebarren was the catcher, and they had Frank Robinson, Paul Blair and Don Buford in the outfield. And they had great pitching – one year it was four 20-game winners: Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson. So because they were so good in 1970, I feel compelled to recall one game between the Orioles and the Washington Senators that year – maybe just to embarrass my friend, Rick Reichert.
It was June 20, a Sunday afternoon at RFK, and it was Earl Weaver managing against Ted Williams. The game was tied 2-2, and in the top of the twelfth inning, with nothing more than a pair of walks, a pair of popups, and an error by Mike Epstein, the Orioles scored and took a 3-2 lead. In the bottom of the twelfth, Jim French drew a leadoff walk, and with one out, Rick came up to the plate to pinch hit for Lee Maye. He hit a walk-off, two run homer and delivered a rare and excruciating loss to the first-place Orioles. It was an amazing moment.
I had to look up the details, but I remember the game. The Yankees had lost to the Red Sox more than an hour earlier. We were 2 ½ games out of first place at that point and we all stuck around the clubhouse to find out how the Orioles game was going.
None of the men I played with are celebrating a birthday today, so I want to remember Hal Reniff, would have been 77 today. It was sad nearly eleven years ago when I learned of his passing. He was my teammate and fellow pitcher on the 1966 Yankees, my rookie season. Hal had a nice career and was especially fortunate to be a rookie on the 1961 World Championship club. In 1963, he led the team in saves and I remember as a first-year minor leaguer watching Porky throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings in the World Series. The first time we pitched in the same game was April 23, 1966 – my Yankee Stadium debut, my second major league game, and my first career loss. And that sure wasn’t Hal’s fault. It was an excruciatingly painful day for me.
The first batter I faced at Yankee Stadium was Luis Aparicio, who got on base with a single hit to me. Then he stole second. I struck out Curt Blefary and Frank Robinson, but then Brooks Robinson hit a single to center and his RBI put the Orioles in the lead. That rattled me a bit, and facing the massive Boog Powell, I threw a wild pitch that but Brooks on second. Thankfully Boog grounded out to Bobby Richardson. I settled down and threw 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.
The fourth inning really sucked. I walked Frank Robinson, who stole second and scored off Brooks Robinson’s single. Paul Blair, who was always an especially tough out for me, hit a two-out single to Mickey Mantle in center, moving Brooks to second. Andy Etchebarren hit another single to Mickey and Brooks scored. Now we’re down 3-0. The Orioles picked up another run in the fifth when Frank Robinson hit an RBI double.
The Yankees finally scored a run in the fifth when Clete Boyer hit a one-out Home Run off Dave McNally. With two outs and no one on base, Ralph Houk sent Hector Lopez in to hit for me. It didn’t help; Hector struck out. Porky came in to pitch in the sixth and faced three batters after Etchebarren hit into a double play; he had a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Elston Howard brought the score to 4-3 when he hit a double, scoring Mickey and Joe Pepitone. The Major sent Lou Clinton in to bat for Porky, and Dooley Womack came in to finish the game. We lost 4-3.
The Yankees sold Porky to the Mets about three months into the 1967 season. That was his last year in major league baseball.
Happy Birthday to baseball great Andy Etchebarren, my fellow Class of 1966 MLB Rookie. Andy was the Orioles catcher in my first major league game. It was Friday, April 15, 1966 in Baltimore and I’ll never forget it. I was 24 and in my first season with the Yankees. I gave up two hits in the first inning, to Luis Aparicio and Brooks Robinson. The second inning went better: Davey Johnson grounded out, and I got my first big league strikeouts – first Paul Blair, and then Andy. Andy got a hit off me in the fifth, a solid shot to center. We were up by two runs in the bottom of the ninth when Frank Robinson hit a Home Run. I settled down and got my first major league win. 1966 was an amazing year for Andy — one of many in his fine career – he was an American League All-Star at age 23, and the Orioles swept the World Series that year against the Dodgers. What an amazing team the Orioles were that year. Frank Robinson (later my manager in Cleveland) won the Triple Crown and the MVP. The Yankees finished tenth in the AL – that’s dead last – 70-89, and 26.5 games out of first place. That’s what I mean by the “Horace Clarke Era.”