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.
A little Celerino Sanchez trivia: Chief came to the Yankees in an unusual trade between a MLB team and a club in the Mexican League. The process started in 1969 when the Yankees traded Al Downing and Frank Fernandez to the Oakland A’s for Danny Cater and an obscure guy named Ossie Chavarria, a Panama-born career minor leaguer (1959-1973) who hit .208 in 124 games for the Kansas City Athletics during parts of 1966 and 1967. (Footnote: he hit .222 against me in four games my rookie year.) Ossie never got his pinstripes: he played all the infield positions for the Syracuse Chiefs, batted in the .250-.270 range, but the competition was tough in those days – the Yankees had Horace Clarke, Gene Michael, Jerry Kenney, Frank Baker and Ron Hansen ahead of him. The Yankees were in the market for a new third baseman, and the scouts had identified Chief as a potential star. So after the 1971 season, the Yankees traded Ossie to the Mexico City Tigers in the Mexican League for Chief. Chief, of course, didn’t pan out, and he returned to the Mexican League in time for the 1974 season. Sadly, Chief died young, of a heart attack in 1992 at age 48. But for some reason – likely his name and his role as the transitional third baseman between Jerry Kenney/Rich McKinney and Graig Nettles – he is well remembered by the Yankee fans of the Horace Clarke Era.
Chief hit his only career Home Run at Yankee Stadium on May 12, 1973 off of Baltimore’s Mickey Scott. He was a pinch hitter for the pinch hitter for the designated hitter. Jim Ray Hart started the game against Mike Cuellar, and Ron Bloomberg pinch hit for him when Bob Reynolds came in relief. When Earl Weaver replaced Reynolds with Scott, Ralph Houk sent Chief up. With Bobby Murcer on first, Sanchez hit a shot to left; Al Bumbry tried to grab it, but he could not. That was a great win because we were tied with Baltimore for second on that particular day. Yankees blanked the Orioles 8-0; rookie Doc Medich got the win.
Chief went hitless in his first two major league games; his first hit came at Yankee Stadium, off Mike Paul of the Texas Rangers. It was a two-out hit to left, with an RBI; Roy White scored. His last hit came in his final game as a New York Yankee, and as a major league baseball player. It was the final game of the 1973 season; I was on the mound against Detroit. He came in to the game as a seventh inning replacement for Graig Nettles; facing Fred Holdsworth, he hit a two-out, two-run single to center, driving in Otto Velez and Hal Lanier. And Chief could never touch Wilbur Wood; nine At-Bats in 1972 and 1973, he hit .000 off him.
I want to acknowledge the baseball career of Curt Blefary, the 1965 American League Rookie of the Year, and five years later, my teammate on the New York Yankees. He died in 2001, at the age of 57 of complications brought on my years of heavy drinking. He would have been 72 today. He was a phenomenal, gifted baseball player and it makes me sad when I think of so many missed opportunities at stardom. Poor guy had demons and never figured out how to deal with them. I missed the chance to play with him in the minor leagues – Buff was a year ahead of me in the Yankee organization; I never quite understood how the team left him unprotected, allowing the Orioles to essentially steal him away.
As a pitcher, I faced Buff seven times during my first three seasons with the Yankees – including my major league debut in Baltimore on April 15, 1966. Generally I did exceptionally well against him: he had a career average of .100 facing me, 2-for-20, and that was during his prime. But there was one game I remember, on September 15, 1966, also in Baltimore, where he hit a leadoff Home Run off me in a game that we lost 5-4.
After the 1968 season, the Orioles had enough of Buff and traded him to the Astros in a deal that would have a monumental impact on the Orioles’ future – and on the rest of the American League; for Buff, the Orioles got Mike Cuellar. Buff returned to the Yankee organization a year later when the Yankees sent Joe Pepitone to Houston for him. But by then he was no longer the power hitter the Yankees coveted. He hit .210 and was traded in May 1971 to the A’s for pitcher Rob Gardner. Buff struggled with the A’s and with the Padres before his career ended in 1972, at age 29.
There was one game where Buff showed his true athletic abilities that I particularly remember. It was June 2, 1970, a night game at Yankee Stadium against the Royals. Danny Cater drew a one-out walk in the fourth, stole second off Ellie Rodriguez, and advanced to third off a single by Thurman Munson. Buff drove Danny in with a sacrifice fly to Amos Otis is center. Then in the eighth, he hit a two-out solo Home Run off Moe Drabowsky. The Yankees won that game 3-2, with Buff having two of the RBI’s that night. Every game was important, but as I am in the reminiscence phase of my life, I place a premium on 1970 wins since I had exactly 20 of them. That was big deal for me, since I only had the one 20-win season – so I am eternally grateful to every Yankee who helped me get there.
Like most pitchers, I wasn’t much of a hitter. My career average was .159 – 82 hits, including 15 doubles, a triple, and two “historic” home runs (off Clyde Wright and Mike Cuellar). I actually hit well my rookie season, 1966: .224, which was four points higher than a right fielder named Lou Clinton, a very nice man who was nearing the end of his career. Of course my hitting career came to an end in 1973 when the AL adopted the Designated Hitter rule. I was fine with that; it made it a little tougher when #9 in the order was no longer a pitcher, but fans liked the idea of some veteran hitters staying on a bit longer and so did I. My last major league at-bat came on October 1, 1972, the first game of a Sunday double header against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium – my last start of the season because there was no post-season in the “Horace Clarke Era.” It was one of the most memorable games of my career – an 11-inning complete game! How many times has that happened?
Gaylord Perry was pitching for the Indians, and he was enjoying the best seasons of his career: 24-16, with a 1.92 ERA, 234 strikeouts, and winning the Cy Young Award. He also pitched a complete game – his 29th of the season. So I repeat my question: when was the last time two pitchers threw an 11-inning complete game in the same game?
This was not an inconsequential game. The Yankees began the day tied for 3rd in the AL East with the Orioles, while the Red Sox and Tigers were in a down-to-the-wire battle for first. We were five games out of first place, with five games remaining. We were eliminated from winning the division since Boston and Detroit had three games left against each other. But there was a scenario that could have had us in 2nd – not 4th, where we wound up – and that was worth trying for.
The Yankees scored in the fourth when Roy White scored on Bernie Allen’s ground rule double, and the Indians tied it in the fifth when Ray Fosse hit a leadoff Home Run against me. The game remained 1-1 until the top of the eleventh. Buddy Bell led off with a double to left, and moved to third on Jack Brohamer’s grounder to Ron Bloomberg at first. Chris Chambliss hit a sacrifice fly to Bobby Murcer in center; Bell scored, and we were down 2-1. I was supposed to lead off the bottom of the eleventh, but naturally Ralph Houk pinch hit for me. Frank Tepedino struck out looking. Then Horace Clarke filed out and Thurman Munson grounded out. We lost 2-1.
I don’t presume to know anything about baseball compared to Houk, who was one of the smartest baseball strategists I ever knew. But 43 years later, maybe it’s ok to wonder what he was thinking when he sent Tepedino, who was 0-8 as a September call up, to leadoff in the bottom of the eleventh, one run down. There were only two left-handed hitter on the bench: Tepedino and Johnny Callison, who was a .216 lifetime hitter against Perry but was hitting .280 vs. righties that season. Would it have been better to take his chances with Johnny Ellis, a right-handed hitter with a .294 average and a .270 average against right-handed pitchers that season? Or an experienced hitter, like Ron Swoboda? We will never know.
Anyway, there was a point to this post, and finally I’m getting to it. With the DH starting in 1973 – call it the Ron Bloomberg Lifetime of Fame Rule – this was the last time I would ever bat in a major league game. I popped up to shortstop Frank Duffy in the fourth, and struck out in the fifth — I was one of Perry’s eleven strikeouts that game. My final career At-Bat came in the eighth, with a ground out to second. As I said earlier, Teppie pinch hit for me in the eleventh and struck out. I think I could have done at least as well.