1969 World Series
The 1969 World Series was played between the New York Mets and the Baltimore Orioles, with the Mets prevailing in five games to accomplish one of the greatest upsets in Series history, as that particular Orioles squad was (and still is by some baseball pundits) considered to be one of the finest ever. The World Series win earned the team the sobriquet "Miracle Mets," as they had risen from the depths of mediocrity (the 1969 team had the first winning record in Mets history).
Karl Ehrhardt, known as "the sign man" at Shea Stadium, held up a sign that read There Are No Words, which was seen in the Series highlight film soon after the final out was made.
The Mets became the first expansion team to win a division title, a pennant, and the World Series, winning in their eighth year of existence. Two teams would later surpass that, as the Florida Marlins won the 1997 World Series in their fifth year (also becoming the first wild card team to win a World Series) and the Arizona Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series in their fourth year of play.
The Baltimore Orioles boasted some of the biggest guns in the American League and entered the '69 Series with a renewed confidence after dominating Sandy Koufax and his mighty Dodgers three years earlier. Among the American League champs "lumber company" was Boog Powell (thirty-seven home runs, one-hundred twenty-one runs batted in), Frank Robinson (thirty-two homers, one-hundred RBIs), Brooks Robinson (twenty-three homers, eighty-four RBIs) and Paul Blair (twenty-six homers, seventy-six RBIs). Their opponents, the New York Mets were still a young franchise and were making their first post-season appearance after topping the National League in only their eighth season.
Tom Seaver (a twenty-five game winner) was given the opening start for New York at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium and made it to his second pitch before surrendering the first "home team - home run". By the afternoon's end, Orioles' lefthander Mike Cuellar had given up only six hits and struck out eight. Baltimore was an easy winner (4-1) despite their standout line-up managing only four runs in thirty at-bats. The Mets' Jerry Koosman continued to silence the home team's big guns in Game 2 while holding their line-up to six hitless innings. Donn Clendenon backed up the twenty-six year-old lefty with a fourth inning homer off Dave McNally. Baltimore managed to tie it up in the seventh when Paul Blair led off with his team's first hit, then stole second and finally scored on Brooks Robinson's two out single. Not to be discouraged, the Mets rose to the occasion in the ninth and as Ed Charles, Jerry Grote and Al Weis all came through with two out singles. Koosman then got last-out relief help from Ron Taylor and emerged the 2-1 victor.
Game 3 debuted the first postseason outing at Shea Stadium and featured one of the greatest individual performances in the sixty-six year history of the Series, courtesy of the Mets' Tommie Agee. Agee started the contest off with a first inning home run off of Jim Palmer and continued to produce in the outfield for the remaining innings. With two out in the fourth and Oriole runners on first and third, the centerfielder raced to the 396-foot sign in left-center and made a phenomenal backhanded, catch of Elrod Hendricks' smash. Later in the seventh, the Orioles had loaded the bases with two out, but Agee came up clutch again making a headfirst diving grab of Blair's liner that sailed to right-center. Ed Kranepool added a home run as the Mets came out on top, 5-0. On the mound, Gary Gentry and a young reliever named Nolan Ryan combined on a four hitter.
A determined Seaver returned for redemption in Game 4 and took a 1-0 edge going into the ninth. Clendenon had given the junior pitcher the lead after launching a rocket in the second off of Mike Cuellar, but Frank Robinson and Powell both responded with late-game singles with Brooks Robinson on deck. The Oriole slugger nailed a perfect line drive to center, but right-fielder Ron Swoboda mimicked Agee's performance in Game 3 and made a spectacular diving, one-handed catch. While Frank Robinson tagged up and scored from third, Swoboda had shortened a potential big inning. The deadlocked remained 1-1 through the bottom of the tenth when the Mets sealed the deal on Jerry Grote's double and Oriole reliever Pete Richert's errant throw on pinch-hitter J.C. Martin's bunt. Seizing the opportunity, Rod Gaspar (pinch running for Grote) sped home for the 2-1 win.
Now down three games to one, the stunned Orioles came out swinging in Game 5 as pitcher McNally, (thanks to his own two run home run and another by Frank Robinson) held a 3-0 lead after five tense innings. Earl Weaver's team seemed to finally be on the road to recovery, but the Mets struck again after Cleon Jones led-off with a hit by pitch in the famous "shoe polish play", where manager Gil Hodges came out to argue the original call that Jones had not been struck. Hodges retrieved the ball, showed it to the umpire who saw the polish mark, and awarded Jones first base. Clendenon followed him home with a two run blast edging closer with only a 3-2 disadvantage. An unlikely hero named Al Weis (who had seven home runs in ten years) stepped up to the plate and tied the game with a leadoff home run in the sixth. Eddie Watt came in as relief for Baltimore in the eighth, but eventually lost 5-3 after surrendering a clutch double to Cleon Jones as well as Ron Swoboda who drove in the winning run.
In the end, New York had not only gone on to win their first World Championship (in their first appearance), they had also shut down the biggest line-up in all of baseball by holding the "Bird's Big Four" to a three for fifteen outing in Game 4 and a miserable two for fifteen showing in Game 5.
What a mismatch. Representing the American League were the Baltimore Orioles, who won 109 games during the regular season. Meanwhile, bearing the National League standard were the New York Mets. True, the Mets did win 100 games, but they were best known for their previous seven seasons of futility, and in the previous year, they had finished ninth.
The World Series opened in Baltimore, and Game 1 went according to form with Orioles ace Mike Cuellar topping the Mets, 4-1, with a complete-game six-hitter. Left fielder Don Buford led the hitting attack with a solo homer in the first inning and an RBI double in the fourth.
Mets starter Jerry Koosman was brilliant in Game 2, permitting just two hits and one run through eight innings. However, Baltimore's Dave McNally was solid, too, and entering the ninth the clubs were tied at one run apiece. With two outs in the top of the ninth, the Mets produced a run on consecutive singles from Ed Charles, Jerry Grote and Al Weis to take a 2-1 lead. Koosman retired the first two Orioles hitters in the bottom of the ninth, but then walked Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. Mets manager Gil Hodges called on reliever Ron Taylor, who retired Brooks Robinson on a grounder to end the game.
In New York for Game 3, Met hurlers Gary Gentry and Nolan Ryan combined on a four-hitter. Tommie Agee and Ed Kranepool both hit solo homers, Gentry himself drove in a pair of runs, and Agee contributed two outstanding defensive plays in center field to rob the Orioles. Game 4 was a rematch of Game 1, Cuellar against Mets ace Tom Seaver. The Mets took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on Donn Clendenon's home run, and that's where it stayed until the ninth, when the Orioles scratched out a single run. It would have been more, but right fielder Ron Swoboda made a spectacular diving catch on Brooks Robinson's drive to right-center. And in the bottom of the 10th, a misplayed ball in left field and pitcher Pete Richert's error on an attempted sacrifice bunt allowed pinch-runner Rod Gaspar to score the game-winning run.
The Orioles grabbed a 3-0 lead in the third inning of Game 5, but Koosman shut the door after that. In the bottom of the sixth, Cleon Jones was struck on the foot by a Cuellar pitch -- shoe polish on the ball proved it -- and scored moments later when Clendenon blasted his third homer of the Series. Al Weis homered to tie the game one inning later, and in the eighth, two Met doubles and two Orioles throwing errors gave New York two more runs. The final was New York 5, Baltimore 3, and the National Leaguers had won the World Series.