Only a spoilsport would mention it in baseball-giddy Baltimore, but there is solid memory that the Orioles were notably unsuccessful in their last try at beating Pittsburgh in a World Series. The year was 1971. The memory is unkind.
Life had a lilt in Baltimore that week. The Orioles had won their last 14 games before going into the World Series, and now Dave McNally and Jim Palmer had licked the Pirates in the first two games, just as they were supposed to.
This activated the eager historians in the press box who now could pinpoint the doleful destiny of the Pirates in terms of hopelessness of any team that loses the first two Series games.
And then, with suddenness, the Orioles and Pirates exchanged roles, only one of them willingly. Pittsburgh became the boss of the Series. Roberto Clemente's base hits, 12 of them in the Series, began to light up the scoreboard. A Pirate pitcher named Steve Blass would turn the Series around by winning the third game, and would gun down the Orioles forever in the seventh game.
This wasn't supposed to happen to the Orioles, who had all that pitching: Four 20-game winners. Count 'em, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson. But they would go down before Clemente and the surprising new pitching strength of the Pirates. Blass would beat Cuellar twice, and Bruce Kison, a relief pitcher, would lick Dobson's relief. And Nelson Briles would beat McNally in the fifth game.
Willie Stargell, the toast of Pittsburgh for his heroics in this year's pennant playoff against the Reds, was playing the outfield for Pittsburgh in 1971. He didn't have a good Series, batting .208. Manny Sanguillen, who with pitcher Kison is one of the three Pirate holdovers from eight years ago, had a big .379 Series. The third Pirate relic is Kison, Tuesday's first-game starter.
Palmer and Mark Belanger are the Oriole holdovers from 1971, plus Manager Earl Weaver. Eight years ago, the Orioles were hefty favorites this year, barely.
In 1971, the fun-makers were saying that it was not until the third game that the Pirates discovered the World Series was not a spectator sport, that two could play at it. On a day when Oriole fans had fancy notions of Cuellar making it three in a row for Baltimore, precipitating a four-game sweep, Blass reared up as an ugly presence in their future.
It had been 11 years before that Pittsburgh scouts, as if by divine instructions, went down to the land of Canaan (Conn.) to sign a young schoolboy pitcher by the name of Blass. He pitched a three-hitter for the Pirates in the third game, then was to haunt them in the seventh, the big one.
The Orioles had reason to think they would win the fourth game when they knocked out Luke Walker with a three-run first inning. But Kison moved in, gave them one hit over the next 6 2/3 innings, got three hits from Clemente and beat 'em, 4-3, to even the series at 2-2.
The Pirates led, 3-2, in games after Briles subdued the Orioles with a 4-0 shutout, in which Clemente got a big hit and Bob Robertson a bigger one, a homer. McNally was the loser here.
In the sixth game, back in Baltimore, Palmer got the Orioles even at 3-3 despite a homer by Clemente, although it took him 10 innings. In Las Vegas, they still couldn't believe the Pirates were all that dangerous, quoting the Orioles as 8-to-5 favorite to win the seventh game and the Series.
The next day, Manager Danny Murtaugh gave the ball to Blass for a second go with Mike Cuellar, and it could be said Blass was less efficient this time. He didn't pitch a three-hitter. He pitched a four-hitter.
Clemente knocked another home run into the far left field seats in the fourth, to gain full glory before he would lose his life in an airplane tragedy a year later.
After Clemente's blast, the Orioles were dead. They never caught up, and lost the seventh game, 2-1.That same afternoon a Redskin linebacker, named Jack Pardee intercepted three passes by Jim Hart. This was very useful in a 20-0 victory by the Redskins, even if unnoticed in Baltimore.