This day in baseball history: The first World Series night game

The Baltimore Orioles jumped out to a two games to none lead over Pittsburgh in the 1971 World Series. In Game Three, Pittsburgh, finally playing at home, got back in the argument with a 5-1 victory. Steve Blass went all the way to best Mike Cuellar. He allowed only three hits and two walks.

Pittsburgh took charge of the game in the seventh inning with three runs. Roberto Clemente reached first on an error by Cuellar, who then walked Willie Stargell. Bob Robertson’s three-run homer put the Bucs up 5-1, the final score. Robertson was supposed to be bunting, but missed the sign.

My memory of the Clemente play (which I hope I’m not confusing with another one from the same Series) is that he tapped a weak grounder to Cuellar for what looked to be an easy out. But Clemente streaked to first so fast that when Cuellar fielded the ball, he panicked. This led to the error.

Game Four took place on October 13. It was the first World Series game ever played at night, and thus the start of one of the great advances in baseball.

No longer would school kids have to run home hoping to catch the last few innings of World Series games, as I did for years. Or pretend they were sick so they could miss school. Or try to cajole sympathetic teachers into turning on the radio during class.

And, happily, it would be at least a decade before kids would have to stay up until midnight to see the end of Series games. (Game Four of this Series was over in 2 hours and 48 minutes, one of the longer contests of the seven game Series.)

Pat Dobson was Earl Weaver’s starter in Game Four. Dobson was a cut below Baltimore’s other aces — McNally, Palmer, and Cuellar — but it’s hard to quarrel with his selection. The Orioles were up two games to one and Dobson had been a 20 game winner on the season.

Danny Murtaugh selected Luke Walker for what looked like a must-win game. He might have come back with Dock Ellis who had started Game One and lasted less than three innings. But Ellis was pitching with pain in his elbow. Murtaugh would not use him again in this Series.

Walker had been excellent in 1970, but mediocre in 1971. In Game Three, the Orioles chased him in the first inning.

The first three batters — Don Buford, Paul Blair, and Merv Rettenmund — singled. That loaded the bases. A passed ball by Manny Sanguillen allowed Buford to score and opened first base for Frank Robinson, who received an intentional pass.

Sacrifice flies by Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell made it 3-0 Baltimore. Murtaugh had seen enough. He called in Bruce Kison from the bullpen.

Earlier in the season, the 21-year-old had been pitching for Charleston in the International League (Triple A). In June, Sports Illustrated published a wonderful article by Pat Jordan (himself a one-time first-tier pitching prospect) about the skinny right-hander (6-4, 170 pounds at most) and his mentor, a career minor league catcher named Woody Huyke.

Now Kison was entering Game Four of the World Series.

Kison was unhittable that night. He closed out of the first inning and worked all the way through the seventh. During that period, he allowed only one hit, a double by Blair in the second, and no walks. He did hit three Oriole batters, though, in his quest to take command of the inside portion of the plate. (Kison was similarly aggressive on the base path, barreling into Davey Johnson in an attempt to break up a double play.)

Meanwhile, the Pirates quickly erased the Orioles’ three-run lead. They scored two in the bottom of the first — doubles by Stargell and Al Oliver being the key blows. And they tied the game in the third on singles by Richie Hebner, Clemente, and Oliver.

The score remained 3-3 until the bottom of the seventh. By then Eddie Watt was pitching for the Orioles.

Watt struck out Oliver to begin the frame. Robertson followed with a single, as did Sanguillen with Robertson stopping at second base.

Murtaugh sent up Vic Davalillo, one of the best pinch-hitters of his era (he’s #21 on the all time pinch hits list), to bat for light-hitting Jackie Hernandez. Davalillo reached on a true rarity — an error by centerfielder Paul Blair. The perennial gold-glover (he won that award every year from 1969-75) simply dropped a fly ball.

Robertson stopped at third. Sanguillen tried to stop at second, but rounded the base too far and was tagged out.

Now there were two outs and runners on first and third. Kison was due up.

Murtaugh called on another pinch-hitter, Milt May, a rookie who had batted .278 on the year. Weaver may have considered pulling Watt, who wasn’t fooling anybody, for a lefty to face the left-handed hitting May. He had Pete Richert available. But Murtaugh would have countered with Gene Clines, a .310 hitter on the season, so Weaver stayed with his trusty, longtime relief ace (1.81 ERA in 1971).

May singled home Robertson with the go-ahead run.

With Kison out of the game, Murtaugh brought in his relief ace, Dave Giusti, a so-so starter for many years before moving to, an excelling in, the bullpen in 1970.

Giusti picked up where Kison left off. He retired six straight Orioles to nail down a 4-3 victory for the Pirates. After their fast start, Baltimore had mustered only one hit in the final eight innings of baseball’s first World Series night game.

The next day, the O’s managed only two hits, bringing their total for the three games in Pittsburgh to just nine. Nelson Briles shut them out 4-0, defeating McNally. Robertson hit another home run for the Bucs.

Down three games to two and not hitting at all, it was starting to look like the 1969 World Series all over again for the Orioles.

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