The 1970 American League Championship Series was a sequel. The inaugural year of LCS play had been 1969. The AL round had seen the Baltimore Orioles sweep the Minnesota Twins three straight in a postseason round that was best-of-five through 1984. 1970 was more of the same. The Twins were good, but the Orioles were better and Baltimore brought the brooms.
You can read more about the season-long journeys that Baltimore and Minnesota took to their division titles, and about their key players, at the links below. This article will focus squarely on the games that made up the 1970 ALCS.
Homefield advantage for the League Championship Series round was done on a rotation basis and used a 2-3 format. The series would open with two games at Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium, then go east to Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium for all remaining games.
So on Saturday afternoon at the Old Met, the Orioles and Twins got down to business and the home team wasted no time in going to work. Cesar Tovar singled, was bunted up to second and scored on a single by the great Harmon Killebrew. It was 1-0 Twins in the first inning and might have been worse, but Tony Oliva’s two-out line drive wound up in the glove of Baltimore centerfielder Paul Blair.
Baltimore then bounced right back at the plate. Elrod Hendricks and Brooks Robinson singled, and Davey Johnson was hit by a pitch. The bases were loaded with one out. Minnesota starter Jim Perry got a needed ground ball from Mark Belanger. But after the forceout at second, Twins’ second baseman Danny Thompson threw it away on the turn. Instead of escaping the jam, Perry saw two runs score and the Birds grab the lead.
Thompson helped make some amends with his bat in the bottom of the inning, following a George Mitterwald single with a double and setting up second and third with one out. Perry came to the plate—the DH did not exist until 1973—and dropped down a bunt that picked up the tying run. It was 2-2, and neither starter—eventual Cy Young Award winner Perry or 20-game winner Cuellar—looked comfortable.
In the top of the fourth, Frank Robinson and Hendricks got the inning going with singles to right. With runners on the corners, Brooks Robinson’s sac fly put Baltimore up 3-2. A Johnson single and infield hit from Belanger loaded up the bases. Cuellar came to the plate. It was an ideal spot for Perry to limit the damage. Instead, the Oriole pitcher blew this game open with a grand slam. It was 7-2 and before the inning was over, Baltimore added on. Don Buford and MVP first baseman Boog Powell each homered.
With a 9-2 lead, Cuellar should have been set to cruise home. Instead, the Twins rallied over the next two innings. Tovar knocked a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the fourth. Killebrew homered in the fifth. Mitterwald came up with a two-out RBI base hit of his own. Cuellar was not able to complete five innings and qualify for the win. It was 9-6 and we still had a ballgame on our hands.
Dick Hall, on in relief for Cuellar, batted for himself in the top of the sixth and singled. Buford worked a walk. Powell’s RBI single extended the lead to 10-6. After another walk, the bases were loaded. But this rally ended when Hendricks’ ground ball to first base turned into a 3-2-3 double play.
The double play kept the Twins in the game, but games like this swing on which team can find a reliever to settle things done. Hall was that man today. He pitched four innings of one-hit ball and the 10-6 score held to the end. Baltimore had ensured themselves a road split.
Minnesota turned to their own Hall—Tom Hall to try and even up the series on Sunday afternoon. But Tom Hall was erratic, walking Belanger and Blair to open the game, then giving up a RBI double to Powell. In the top of the third, a leadoff single from Belanger set up Frank Robinson’s two-run blast. In the fourth, an infield hit and an error set up another Oriole pitcher to do the job with his bat. Dave McNally singled in the run. It was 4-0 and Tom Hall was headed for an early shower.
Like Cuellar before him, McNally struggled with an early lead. He walked Leo Cardenas. A free pass to a light-hitting shortstop who batted in front of Killebrew and Oliva was less than ideal. The big bats each homered and the Twins were back in the game, down 4-3 going into the fifth.
Baltimore threatened to blow it right back open in the top of the fifth, loading the bases with no one out. Stan Williams came out of the Minnesota. He got Brooks Robinson to pop out and Davey Johnson’s fly ball was to shallow to score a run. Williams kept the score 4-3 and—at least temporarily—saved his team’s season.
The Twins missed their own opportunity in the fifth inning’s bottom half. With two on and one out, Cardenas singled to left. Williams came around third looking to score the tying run, but Oriole leftfielder Merv Rettenmund threw him out at the plate and preserved the 4-3 lead.
Just like in the opener, both teams got pitching in the latter stages of the game and the 4-3 score held to the top of the ninth. McNally, still in the game, was allowed to bat for himself and got it rolling with a double to left. A Belanger single put runners on first and third. After Blair struck out, Frank Robinson worked a walk to load the bases.
Ron Perranoski, the Twins’ ace reliever had come in on the eighth and faced off with Powell. The MVP ripped a double to left, scored two runs and extended the lead to 6-3. Having taken out a little insurance, the Baltimore bats piled on. Rettenmund’s single picked up another run. An error from Cardenas made it 8-3. Davey Johnson delivered the final blow with a three-run blast.
The Orioles had an 11-3 win. It was a much better game than the score makes it sound, but Baltimore was going back home needing just one win in three tries.
There was no travel day and night baseball was not yet a thing for League Championship Series play. So on Monday afternoon, the Birds sent Jim Palmer to the mound to try and secure the pennant. And the Baltimore bats wasted no time in chipping away at Jim Kaat.
Don Buford singled to left to start the home half of the first and was bunted up by Blair. Frank Robinson’s fly ball moved Buford to right and Powell’s single drove in the run. In the second inning, Palmer’s fly ball to center was flubbed by Jim Holt and the Oriole pitcher ended up on second base. A Buford single picked up the run and made it 2-0.
Brooks Robinson led off the Baltimore third with a double. A single from Johnson put runners on the corners and got Kaat out of the game. Bert Blyleven came on, making him the third future Hall of Fame pitcher to work in this game. But the 19-year-old Blyleven couldn’t stop the rally. A ground ball out picked up one run. Palmer continued the hitting display put on by Baltimore pitchers with an RBI double. Buford’s big day continued with a sac fly.
It was 5-0, but Minnesota had shown a propensity to rally at this point in the game. They put two men on with none out in the fourth, but Palmer worked out of it. The Twins grabbed a run in the fifth and brought Killebrew to the plate with two men aboard. On a 1-2 count, Palmer got the great Minnesota slugger looking. The lead was still a comfortable 5-1.
A solo blast from Johnson extended the lead and Palmer cruised home. With a man on first and two outs in the ninth, the Twins set up pinch-hitter Rick Renick. Palmer induced a ground ball to short. Belanger flipped it to Johnson for the forceout at second and the party was on. Baltimore had won the American League pennant for the second straight season and the third time in five years.
The ALCS did not start giving out an MVP award until 1980. The best choice in 1970 would have been Powell. The big first baseman went 6-for-14 and drove in six runs. That included the double that broke open Game 2 and the big two-out RBI hit early in Game 3 that set the tone.
Brooks Robinson had an excellent ALCS, going 7-for-12. Other noteworthy performances included Belanger, who went 4-for-12 and Davey Johnson homered twice.
For Minnesota, this ALCS loss ended what had been a nice two-year run. It would be 17 years before they made it back. For Baltimore, this was the second of six ALCS appearances they would make in the period from 1969 to 1983.
In the short-term, the Orioles had unfinished business. They were looking to avenge an upset loss in the 1969 World Series. This time around, Baltimore faced the Cincinnati Reds in the Fall Classic. Brooks Robinson built off his excellent ALCS and delivered a historically great World Series, leading the Orioles to the championship.