1971 World Series
The 1971 World Series matched the defending champion Baltimore Orioles against the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the Pirates winning in seven games.
Game 4, played in Pittsburgh, was the first-ever World Series game scheduled to be played at night.
The two teams proved to be evenly matched, as the Series went the full seven games, with the Pirates' Steve Blass pitching a complete game four-hitter in winning Game 7, 2–1, against Mike Cuellar and the Orioles.
The Pirates' Roberto Clemente, who turned into a one-man gang in the Series, became the first Latino player to earn World Series MVP honors. Clemente hit safely in all seven games of the 1960 World Series and all seven games of the 1971 World Series.
Bruce Kison, who appeared in two games and finished with 6.1 innings pitched, tied the record set during the 1907 World Series when he hit three batters during a single series.
The Pirates won the National League East division by seven games over the St. Louis Cardinals then defeated the San Francisco Giants, three games to one, in the National League Championship Series. The Orioles won the American League East division by twelve games over the Detroit Tigers then defeated the Oakland Athletics, three games to none, in the American League Championship Series.
The Orioles were coming off their third straight playoff series sweep (over the Oakland A's) and their third straight season with over 100 wins (1969 — 109, 1970 — 108, 1971 — 101). Featuring four (4) pitchers with 20 or more wins (Dave McNally — 21, Mike Cuellar — 20, Pat Dobson — 20, Jim Palmer — 20), the booming bats of sluggers Frank Robinson (28, 99, .281) and Boog Powell (22, 92, .256), and the sure hands of Brooks Robinson at third and Mark Belanger at short, the O’s were primed to defend their title winning the last eleven games of the regular season.
The Pirates were in the World Series for the first time since the heroics of Bill Mazeroski (who appeared in this series as a pinch-hitter in Game 1) in Game 7 of the 1960 match-up against the New York Yankees. Though not as decorated as the O's staff, the Pirates featured 19-game winner Dock Ellis and 15-game winner Steve Blass. The Bucs did boast a murderous lineup led by Willie Stargell (48, 125, .295), Bob Robertson (26, 72, .271) and 36-year-old Roberto Clemente (13, 86, .341), who collected 12 series hits and hit .414.
Sixty-eight years after being crowned the first National League Champions (in 1903), the Pittsburgh Pirates returned to the top of the National League evoking memories of their former glory. Many fans still remembered Bill Mazeroski's ninth inning blast that defeated the perennial champion New York Yankees in 1960 and now they were anxious to see Roberto Clemente win title #2. The "Buccos" had dominated the National League East (winning their division by seven games) and went on to beat the San Francisco Giants three-games-to-one in the Championship Series. The Baltimore Orioles had just completed their third successive American League Series sweep (over the Oakland A's) as well as their third one-hundred win season. They also became only the second club in Major League history (1920 Chicago White Sox) to feature four different twenty game winners in their rotation (Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson).
Pittsburgh set the pace early on in Game 1 and knocked McNally for three quick, second inning runs, but the Orioles ace regained his focus and held the Pirates hitless from the third inning on. Of the three hits he did surrender, two were off the bat of Roberto Clemente - a future member of the 3,000 Hits Club, who had emerged as one of the top players in the National League. Despite "The Great One's" best efforts, Baltimore went on for the 5-3 victory, thanks to a three run homer from Merv Rettenmund and solo blasts from both Frank Robinson and Don Buford. Series vet, Jim Palmer followed with an 11-3 triumph in Game 2 that tallied a staggering fourteen singles. Brooks Robinson notched three hits and two walks while reaching base a record five consecutive times. Like Clemente in the opener, Rich Hebner accounted for all of the Pirates numbers with a three run homer in the eighth.
As the Series shifted to "The Steel City", the hometown Pirates took a considerable turn and showed what had made them National League champions. Steve Blass dominated the mound at Three Rivers Stadium in Game 3, tossing a three hitter while Bob Robertson matched his teammates numbers with a three run homer of his own. The final was a 5-1 victory that put manager Danny Murtaugh's team back in the race. Game 4 was the first of its kind to be played under the lights and the inaugural night game witnessed a clutch comeback by the "Buccos". Baltimore started strong with a three run first that ended with Pirate lefty Luke Walker hitting the showers. Twenty-one year old Bruce Kison came in as relief and pitched one hit, scoreless ball for 6 1/3 innings. Milt Kay, another young thoroughbred, knocked a game winning pinch-single in the seventh as the Pirates tied it up with a 4-3 triumph.
The fifth meeting showcased even better pitching by an unlikely candidate named Nelson Briles. The Pirate novice had not seen much action during the regular season with only fourteen starts and four complete games to his credit. Experience apparently was not a factor though as he silenced all his critics with a brilliant, two hit effort that ended in a 4-0 decision that put Pittsburgh in the lead. On the verge of elimination, the Orioles dug in for Game 6 and held the Pirates to a 2-2 tie through nine innings. Sensing the desperateness of Baltimore's situation, Frank Robinson decided to end the contest himself in the tenth. First the speedy outfielder walked, then he stole second on a Merv Rettenmund grounder up the middle and finally reached home on Brooks Robinson's shallow fly to center field. The "Bird's" were still alive and looking forward to a Game 7, while the "Bucs" were obviously disappointed after failing to finish them off.
Blass returned against Cuellar for the grand finale and neither blinked as Pittsburgh took its final at-bat in the fourth. To no surprise, Roberto Clemente stepped up to the plate and shattered the 0-0 tie with a tape-measure homer over the wall in left-center. Later in the eighth, Clemente's protégé, Willie Stargell crossed home on a Jose Pagan double. Baltimore appeared to position themselves for a comeback, after putting runners on second and third with one out in the last half of the inning, but only managed an RBI on a Don Buford grounder. After narrowly escaping the previous inning, Blass promised not to give the Orioles another chance. The intention would stand as the Pirate ace sat down all three Baltimore batters in a row. With the scoreboard reading 2-1, the Pittsburgh Pirates dethroned the defending World Champions for their fourth World Series title. Clemente was undoubtedly voted the "Buccos" MVP and totaled twelve hits in twenty-nine at-bats to finish with a .414 average. Teammate Manny Sanguillen hit .379 and infielder Bob Robertson added two homers and five runs batted in.
Unfortunately the celebration in Pittsburgh would soon turn to mourning as a short fourteen months later Clemente was killed in a plane crash. The nationally revered icon was on a humanitarian mission that was taking supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua when the aircraft he was flying in went down off the coast of Puerto Rico. The bright black and gold banners that usually adorned the windows and streetcars of Pittsburgh (in honor of all their sports teams) were replaced by black wreaths and the #21 as the entire town remained shocked by the loss of their adopted son. It would take several years for the city's fans to recover although the pain would be numbed by the emerging Steelers dynasty of the mid-late 70's. In retrospect, it seems fitting that Clemente's own protégé, Willie Stargell, would be the one to return the Pirates franchise to their former glory a few short years later.
MEMORIAL STADIUM, BALTIMORE, MARYLAND -- With the Orioles and Pirates each posting the best home record in their respective leagues during the regular season, it's fitting that the home team won each of the first six games. So with Game 7 slated for Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, Orioles fans had reason to be confident.
It didn't hurt that Orioles manager Earl Weaver could pick his starter with his eyes closed, and still be guaranteed a 20-game winner on the hill. Mike Cuellar -- one of Baltimore's four 20-game winners that season -- got the call against Steve Blass of the Pirates' no-name pitching staff for a rematch of Game 3.
The star of the show for Pittsburgh was Roberto Clemente. In 1960, a 26-year-old Clemente hit safely in all seven games of the World Series made famous by Bill Mazeroski's heroics. Eleven years later, Clemente picked up where he left off, recording at least one hit in each of the first six games against the Orioles. In the fourth inning of Game 7, Pittsburgh's Hall of Fame-bound right fielder made it 14 straight when he homered off Cuellar to put the Pirates up 1-0. Cuellar allowed another run in the eighth as Jose Pagan doubled home Willie Stargell.
For his part, Blass was as brilliant as he had been in Game 3, when he pitched Pittsburgh back into the Series by allowing just one run in his complete-game victory. Blass used a neat double play by his infield to get out of a jam in the third, picked off Don Buford to quell a possible rally in the fourth and pitched around a double in the fifth. The Orioles finally managed to scratch out a run off Blass in the bottom of the eighth, but the tying run was left stranded on third.
Facing the heart of the Orioles order in the ninth, Blass enticed Boog Powell to ground out, got Frank Robinson to pop to short and watched as shortstop Jackie Hernandez fielded Merv Rettenmund's grounder up the middle and threw to first for the final out.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were World Champions and Clemente, who batted .414 over the seven games, was named World Series MVP.