The Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds were far and away the best teams in baseball when they met at the 1970 World Series. The Orioles and Reds each won their division titles in a landslide. Both teams swept their way through the League Championship Series round. A great showdown was anticipated in the Fall Classic. What actually ensued was a great show—Baltimore third baseman Brooks Robinson dazzled with his glove and his bat to lead the Orioles to their second championship in five years.
You can read more about how the Orioles and Reds got to the World Series at the links below. The linked articles cover their key players, journey to the division title and go game-by-game through their playoff sweeps. This article focuses exclusively on the games of the 1970 World Series.
The Series opened on a Saturday afternoon. Homefield advantage was done on a rotation basis and it was the National League’s turn. So Cincinnati’s brand-new Riverfront Stadium was hosting the first two games of the World Series in its first year of existence.
And the home team went right to work against Baltimore starter Jim Palmer. Bobby Tolan, the speedy centerfielder who had been hero of the NLCS, ripped a one-out double and then came around to score on a two-out hit from Johnny Bench. In the top of the third, Tolan walked and then scored when Lee May homered. The Reds had an early 3-0 lead.
Cincy starter Gary Nolan set down the first ten batters, but the Oriole bats awoke in the top of the fourth. All it took was an infield hit by Paul Blair. Brooks Robinson followed with a home run and Baltimore was back within 3-2. When Elrod Hendricks pulled a line drive homer to right an inning later, we had a 3-3 tie.
Brooks Robinson had already made a difference with his bat. In the bottom of the sixth, he started putting an imprint on this Series with his glove. May hit a ground ball down the left field line. In a play that can only be described as impossible, Robinson backhanded the ball at the deepest part of the infield, executed a turnaround and threw out May while falling into foul territory.
The defensive heroics meant that the Reds did not score in an inning where they otherwise put a couple runners on. But the 3-3 tie didn’t last long. Robinson came to the plate in the top of the seventh and homered again. The Oriole lead held into the ninth. Palmer got the first two outs. After he walked Pete Rose, Baltimore manager Earl Weaver summoned Pete Richert from the bullpen to face Tolan. The centerfielder hit the ball hard again, but it was a line drive right at shortstop Mark Belanger. The Orioles had won it, 4-3.
Sunday afternoon’s Game 2 started out much the same way as the opener. A Belanger error got the Reds started in the bottom of the first. Perez singled. With two outs, May continued his strong hitting and ripped a two-run double. He was able to take third on a throwing error and thus be in a position to score when Hal McRae beat out an infield hit.
For the second straight game, Cincinnati had a 3-0 lead and this one was extended to 4-zip with a Tolan homer in the bottom of the second. After a one-out walk to Bench, Baltimore manager Earl Weaver had seen enough. Earl gave 20-game winner Mike Cuellar the hook and went to Tom Phoebus out of the bullpen.
It was also time for Brooks Robinson to again step up. Brooks made a diving stop on a ground ball off the bat of May, and started a 5-4-3 double play. The Cincinnati lead was kept at 4-0.
In the top of the fourth, the Orioles started to chip away. Boog Powell homered to dead center to make it 4-1. In the bottom of that inning, the Reds wasted a leadoff double by McRae. We went to the fifth inning with Cincinnati still in control, but Baltimore very much in a game that might have been a blowout.
With one out in the top of the fifth, Chico Salmon batted in the pitcher’s spot. He singled to center. Don Buford and Paul Blair followed with singles. The lead was down to 4-2 and the tying runs were aboard. It was Reds’ manager Sparky Anderson’s turn to go the bullpen. Milt Wilcox came on. But Powell delivered again, this time with an RBI base hit. A long fly ball from Frank Robinson allowed runners to move up and get to second and third.
Brooks Robinson came to the plate. In a two-on/two-out spot, he singled to tie the game 4-4. Elrod Hendricks followed with another big hit, this one an opposite field double down the left line. Baltimore was up 6-4 and Wilcox was gone almost as quickly as he’d come in.
Cincinnati was far from done. Their bullpen got the Oriole bats quieted down and Bench’s solo blast in the bottom of the sixth cut the lead to 6-5. I the top of the seventh, the Reds put two runners on with one out. But Tolan popped out and Perez grounded out.
That was the last threat of the game for either side. Baltimore’s Dick Hall cleaned up the last two innings without incident. A Series where the Reds could easily have held serve at home instead saw them going to Baltimore in a 2-0 deficit.
Night games in the World Series were still a year away, so the midweek games in Baltimore that started on Tuesday were all afternoon affairs. The Reds, facing 24-game winner and Cy Young runner-up Dave McNally, again wasted little time in going to work. Rose and Tolan started Game 3 with singles. But McNally got Perez to hit a grounder to third, one that Brooks Robinson turned into a rally-killing double play.
In the bottom of the first, Brooks was no less adroit with his bat. With the bases loaded and two outs, he doubled to score two runs and give the Orioles an early lead.
Cincinnati got a run back in the top of the second, when shortstop Dave Concepion came up with a two-out RBI base hit of his own. But Baltimore power answered with back. Frank Robinson homered in the third, Buford homered in the fourth and McNally had a 4-1 lead.
Brooks Robinson continued his amazing glovework in the sixth, robbing Bench of a hit. In the bottom of that same inning, Brooks continued his amazing batwork. He doubled to help set up a bases-loaded with two outs situation. McNally came to the plate. Facing a good Reds’ reliever in Wayne Granger, McNally broke his own game wide open with a grand slam.
It was 8-1, and even though Cincy scored a couple empty runs late, McNally closed out the complete game with a 9-3 win. Baltimore was one win from a title.
Four-man rotations were the norm in 1970, so it was no act of heroism for Game 1’s starting pitchers, Palmer and Nolan, to return on three days’ rest for Game 4. Facing elimination and an embarrassing sweep, the Reds scored early. May led off the top of the second with a walk and would score on Concepion’s two-out triple. Brooks Robinson immediately answered with a solo home run in the secod inning’s bottom half.
Palmer’s early struggles continued in the third. A walk to Tolan was folloed by a single from Rose and Cincincinnati had runners on the corners with none out. Palmer buckled down to strike out Perez and induce a popout from Bench. The Reds were staring at a disaster if they failed to score. Until May hustled out an infield single and put his team up 2-1.
Nolan couldn’t hold down the fort though. Palmer singled to lead off the bottom of the third. After two outs, the inning looked ready to end. Powell worked a walk. Then the two Robinsons, Frank and Brooks, along with Hendricks, all singled. Nolan was gone and the Orioles were up 4-2. The only consolation for the Reds at this point was that Rose had thrown out Brooks at the plate to mitigate the damage.
In the top of the fifth, Rose did something with his bat. He homered to cut the lead to 4-3. In the bottom of the sixth, Rose tried to do something with his arm that went awry. With Brooks Robinson on first base, Hendricks singled. Rose tried to throw out Brooks at third, but a throwing error instead brought the run in .
That run looked like some big insurance when Baltimore reached the eighth inning with a 5-3 lead and six outs from starting a celebration. Palmer walked Perez. Bench singled. Eddie Watt was summoned from the Oriole bullpen to face Lee May. The Reds’ first baseman continued his big Series with a home run that halted the celebration plans. Cincinnati was ahead 6-5 and their own reliever, Clay Carroll, finished the job. Carroll got the final 11 outs and allowed just one hit. The Reds were still alive.
The momentum of late Game 4 rolled over to the start of Game 5 on Thursday. Rose doubled down the rightfield line with one out. With two outs, Bench picked up the RBI single. May and McRae hit back-to-back doubles. For the third time in this World Series, Cincinnati had a 3-0 lead early in the game. And now the prospects of getting this Series back to Riverfront Stadium and turning up the pressure on Baltimore was looking very realistic.
But Cincinnati’s Jim Merritt, getting his first start of the Series, couldn’t deliver a shutdown inning. Blair singled, Frank Robinson homered and the Orioles were back to within 3-2 by the end of the first.
Meanwhile, Baltimore starter Cuellar settled down, while their bats were just getting warmed up. The Birds put two on with two out in the bottom of the second. Sparky Anderson, feeling the urgency, went to Granger out of the pen. Belanger singled to tie the game, Blair singled for the lead and it was 4-3.
Powell led off the bottom of the third with a double. Merv Rettenmund drove in the run with a single and moved up to secondon the throw home. Davey Johnson singled and now the Orioles led 6-3. Granger was pulled and Wilcox came on.
But it was already too late. From the second inning through the sixth, Cuellar threw no-hit ball and gave up just one walk. A Rettenmund homer extended the lead to 7-3 going into the seventh inning. Cincinnati finally got another rally started, with runners on first and second. But Cuellar got Bernie Carbo to ground into a double play. The Orioles added two more runs and pushed it out to 9-3.
Cuellar was still on the mound in the ninth. Pinch-hitter Pat Corrales was at the plate with two outs. This Series fittingly ended with a ground ball to Brooks Robinson. He got the out and the Baltimore triumph was complete.
Brooks’ play in this World Series lives on in history, but the Orioles had plenty of heroes. Blair, not known for his hitting, went 9-for-19. Powell capped off his MVP season by driving in five runs. On the losing side, Lee May’s 7-for-18 hitting produced eight RBIs.
But there were two keys that determined the outcome. The hitters that would become known as the Big Red Machine—Rose, Bench and Perez—went a combined 10-for-57.
Of course the other key was Brooks Robinson himself. His defensive heroics had set the tone for this Series. He went 9-for-21 with two homers and six RBIs. He was an easy choice for 1970 World Series MVP.
The winner of Series MVP honors got a car. Rose, who co-owned a Cincinnati dealership with Bench, said afterwards “If we knew wanted a car that badly, we would have given him one.” Maybe that sentence best sums up Baltimore’s victory in the 1970 World Series.