The cities of Pittsburgh and Baltimore have become renowned for their NFL rivalry in the 21st century. In the sports world of 1970s, it was baseball where these two blue-collar fan bases had it in for each other.
They met twice in the Fall Classic. In 1971, the Pirates beat the Orioles in seven games. There was a rematch in the 1979 World Series, and one that followed a familiar script—the Pirates fell behind early in the Series and rallied to win a Game 7 on Baltimore’s home field.
You can read more about the road each team took to get this World Series and about the seasons each of the individual key players produced at the links below. This article’s focus is the games of the 1979 World Series.
Baltimore held homefield advantage due to the rotation system that was in place through 2002. It was old Memorial Stadium, “the house on 33rd Street” as it’s still called to this day in Charm City. The Orioles sent Cy Young winner Mike Flanagan to the mound for Game 1, while the Pirates countered with Bruce Kison.
It didn’t take Baltimore long to get started. Al Bumbry blooped a single to lead off the home half of the first and Mark Belanger drew a walk. A ground ball out moved them both up, a walk filled the bases and an error on Pittsburgh second baseman Phil Garner plated two runs. Then a wild pitch scored a third run and Oriole third baseman Doug DeCinces homered. It was 5-0 before anyone was even settled in.
Kison didn’t survive the inning and one person who did settle in was reliever Jim Rooker. He pitched 3 2/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing just two hits. And the Pirates began to grind their way back.
Tim Foli and Dave Parker led off the fourth with singles and productive groundouts scored a run. In the sixth, Parker and Bill Robinson led off with singles. Flanagan got two outs and was poised to escape when three straight ground balls were hit toward DeCinces. He booted two, one got through for a clean single and the Pirates cut the lead to 5-3.
In the top of the eighth, Willie Stargell homered. Now it was a 5-4 game and Baltimore hadn’t remotely threatened since the first. They were just hanging on and ultimately, they barely survived. Parker singled with one out in the ninth, his fourth hit of the game. But Rick Dempsey gunned Parker down trying to steal.
Stargell popped out to end the game. It seems fair to question Pittsburgh manager Chuck Tanner on why Parker was running when his team’s best clutch hitter, one who had already authored several big moments in the stretch drive of the regular season and NLCS, to say nothing of having just homered in his previous at-bat was at the plate. Baltimore took the opener 5-4.
Jim Palmer had won three Cy Young Awards in his great career with the Orioles and though he was no longer that caliber of pitcher, he was still pretty good and he got the ball in Game 2. Bert Blyleven went for the Pirates.
Pittsburgh got to Palmer in the second with singles from Stargell, John Milner and Bill Madlock, along with a sac fly from Ed Ott, to get two runs. Baltimore’s Eddie Murray promptly cut that in half with home run to lead off the home half of the inning.
Murray then tied the game in the sixth, as he doubled in Ken Singleton, and subsequently moved up to third with one out. Parker then came up big defensively. Murray tried to tag on a line drive out off the bat of John Lowenstein, and Parker nailed Murray at the plate. The game remained tied 2-2.
It was still a 2-2 game in the ninth and both starting pitchers were out. Bill Robinson led off with a single for Pittsburgh. Oriole manager Earl Weaver summoned Don Stanhouse. The closer had trouble in the ALCS win over the California Angels and the trouble didn’t stop here.
Even though Dempsey threw out Robinson trying to steal, Stanhouse allowed a two-out single to Ott, walked Garner and then surrendered a base hit to Manny Sanguillen. The soft spot of the Pirate lineup had beaten the Oriole closer and Pittsburgh tied the series with a 3-2 win.
The action shifted to Pittsburgh for Friday night’s Game 3. There was no travel day, as the opening of the Series had been postponed by a day due to a rain. Scott McGregor had pitched the clinching game of the ALCS for Baltimore and he got the call, facing John Candelaria, who won the opener of the NLCS for Pittsburgh.
Weaver inserted Kiko Garcia into the lineup at shortstop for Mark Belanger. The latter was the best defensive shortstop of his time, but his bat was woeful. Weaver was clearly looking to kickstart an offense that had been quiet for 17 innings, and had required the Pirates beating themselves for even that five-run outburst in the first inning of Game 1.
Garcia didn’t waste time making his manager look good. He doubled to start the game, the first of his four hits. But the Orioles wasted a first-and-third with no outs opportunity. Pittsburgh scored in their own half of the inning when Moreno hit his own leadoff double and came around on productive outs.
Pittsburgh got two more runs in the third, as Garner followed singles by Stargell and Steve Nicosia by doubling both in. But Garner tried for a triple and got thrown out, so in spite of a later single by Candelaria, McGregor got off the hook with the score still 3-0.
The Orioles starting coming back in the third when Garcia walked and Bennie Ayala homered. Their own potential big inning got cut down when they got two more runners aboard, and Gary Roenicke singled, but Ken Singleton was nailed at the plate by Bill Robinson.
Baltimore tied the game an inning later when Rich Dauer doubled, Dempsey singled and Foli booted a grounder off the bat of McGregor. Then it got away from Candelaria. Garcia tripled in two more runs and chased the starter. Enrique Romo came on in relief, hit Bumbry with a pitch, gave up an RBI single to Singleton and an RBI groundout to DeCinces. Suddenly, the Pirates trailed 7-3.
Pittsburgh got a run back in the sixth when Stargell doubled and scored, but Dempsey did the same in the seventh and the Orioles won 8-4.
Game 4 was in the early part of Saturday afternoon, with Dennis Martinez pitching for Baltimore and Jim Bibby on the mound for Pittsburgh. The Pirates were feeling the heat and Stargell set a quick tone, homering to dead center in the second inning. That was followed by a base hit from Milner and consecutive ground-rule doubles from Madlock and Ott to make it 3-0.
Garner then singled, but Ed Ott was thrown out at the plate. Martinez didn’t survive the first inning, as Weaver went to Sammy Stewart. Moreno drove in another run with a single, but Stewart picked him off first base. The Pirates led 4-0, but had lost two runners on the bases.
Those missed chances didn’t take long to start appearing consequential. A Madlock error in the third gave Baltimore life, and it was followed by a Bumbry single and two-out doubles by Garcia and Singleton to cut the lead to 4-3. Madlock came to bat in the bottom of the inning with the bases loaded, one out and a chance to redeem himself. He grounded into a double play.
Pittsburgh scored twice in the fifth. Milner drilled an RBI double and there were runners on second and third with one out. Madlock was given an intentional walk, but Ott’s ensuing fly ball to left was too short to score even the fast Parker who was on third. The Pirates added another run in the sixth when Parker lashed a two-out double to score Foli. But 6-3 was still a game going into the late innings and there was no reason for it to be so.
Baltimore finally made Pittsburgh pay in full for their sins. Garcia and Singleton singled to start the eighth. DeCinces drew a one-out walk. Tanner called for his closer, Kent Tekulve. Weaver sent up pinch-hitter John Lowenstein, who had hit an extra-inning walkoff home run in the ALCS. This time Lowenstein ripped a two-run double to cut the lead to 6-5. After an intentional walk, Weaver sent up another pinch-hitter, Terry Crowley. He smacked a two-run double and Baltimore had the lead.
Weaver had emptied his bench so thoroughly, the pitcher Tim Stoddard had to bat for himself. No matter. Stoddard singled and another run came home. A Bumbry grounder scored yet another run and it was 9-6. Stoddard pitched the final two innings without incident.
Baltimore now had Flanagan ready to go for Game 5 and home games with Palmer and McGregor and reserve. It was a long road back for Pittsburgh. On Sunday morning, prior to the fifth game, Tanner’s mother passed away. Was it the extra jolt of motivation the Pirates needed, to win it for the skipper? Or was the comeback about to happen something that would have taken place anyway?
Who knows, but the trajectory of this Series was about to alter, and in more ways than just the Pirates starting to take over. The pitchers also began to take over.
Rooker got to start for Pittsburgh in lieu of Kison, whose turn was up, after the reliever had significantly outpitched the starter in Game 1. The game was scoreless until the fifth. The Orioles picked up a run when Roenicke doubled, DeCinces singled and Dauer’s double play grounder brought the run in the back door.
It was the sixth when Pittsburgh got to Flanagan. Foli drew a leadoff walk, Parker singled, both were bunted up and Stargell tied the game with a sac fly. Madlock then singled with two outs, a clutch hit that marks the moment the 1979 World Series really turned.
Blyleven had come on out of the pen in the sixth inning and shut down Baltimore the rest of the way. Pittsburgh got two runs in the seventh. With two outs, Foli tripled to score Garner and Parker then doubled. In the eighth, four singles and an intentional walk scored three more and Pittsburgh stayed alive, 7-1.
After five days of non-stop baseball, the teams got a chance to catch their breath on Monday, with the flights back to Baltimore. Candelaria matched up with Palmer for Game 6 and the result was a tense pitcher’s duel.
Palmer escaped a jam in the first with the Pirates put runners on second and third with no outs. The Oriole starter got Parker and Stargell no less to keep the game scoreless. But Candelaria returned the favor in the same inning when Baltimore had first and third and one out, and he induced Murray to hit into a double play.
No one threatened through six innings, when the Pirates finally got to Palmer in the seventh. Moreno singled with one out and Foli followed suit. Parker singled to right and Stargell picked up another run with a sac fly. Baltimore never threatened and Pittsburgh added two more runs in the eighth, with an RBI double from Garner, who moved up to third and scored on a sac fly from Moreno. With the 4-0 win, the Pirates had forced a seventh game.
McGregor and Bibby were on the mound. It was not an ideal situation for Pittsburgh—Bibby was on three days’ rest and even though that wasn’t incredibly uncommon in the world of 1979, it still wasn’t the norm and Bibby wasn’t one of Pittsburgh’s best. But the need to use Blyleven for four innings in the must-win Game 5 had thrown the Pirate rotation out of whack.
It didn’t matter. Baltimore got a run in the third when Dauer homered, but the Orioles couldn’t mount sustained threats. McGregor looked like he might make it stand up when he kept the 1-0 lead into the sixth. Bill Robinson hit a one-out single and Stargell came to the plate.
Stargell hit a fly ball to deep right. It looked like Singleton might have a play on it near the wall. He nearly did. The rightfielder leaped, but the ball cleared the fence. Pittsburgh had a 2-1 lead, and with these teams playing games whose style resembled the modern-day defensive football brawls of the Steelers and Ravens, that one-run margin seemed enormous.
It was 2-1 in the eighth, when Baltimore finally rallied. Lee May and Bumbry drew one-out walks. Tekulve was summoned. He got Crowley to ground out, and the runners moved up. Singleton was intentionally walked. The decision was to pitch to Murray. The 23-year-old had enjoyed a great year, was embarking on a Hall of Fame career and had been red-hot in the ALCS. But he was 4-for-25 in the World Series. And it was about to be 4-for-26. Murray hit one to deep right, but this one stayed playable for Parker.
Pittsburgh added two insurance runs in an incredibly sloppy ninth. Weaver used five pitchers, four of them facing just one batter. There were to hit batsmen, and with a 4-1 lead, it was all but over. Tekulve closed the door without incident.
It was a comeback that remains at least modestly historic. While coming back from 3-1 down wasn’t unprecedented, nor was winning the last two on the road, the 1979 World Series is the last time the latter feat has been achieved. The fact Pittsburgh beat three high-quality starting pitchers in the process only adds to how impressive the accomplishment was.
Stargell was World Series MVP, an easy choice. He finished 12-for-30 and drove in seven runs. His three home runs were the only homers for any Pirate player. One of them happened to win Game 7. So yes, even though Foli and Garner both peppered Oriole pitching consistently, Pops was an easy call.
Had the Orioles won, the choice likely would have been Garcia, who went 8-for-20 and whose insertion in the lineup in Game 3 had temporarily altered the Series. Although if the theoretical Baltimore win had come in Game 7 behind McGregor, the lefty might have been the pick.
Baltimore would be back—they won 100 games in 1980, competed to the final day of the 1982 regular season before being eliminated and finally won the World Series again in 1983. Pittsburgh wouldn’t be—they didn’t make postseason play again until 1990 and have not returned to the Fall Classic since that magical October when Pops Stargell lifted his team to a championship.