Matthew Taylor: Remembering 1974, when the O’s went on an historic streak

Last Friday, the Nationals’ scoreless innings streak by starters ended at 48 innings when the Phillies’ Cody Asche laced an RBI double against Max Scherzer. It was the longest scoreless inning streak in franchise history and the second-longest streak in baseball history to the 1974 Orioles.

Two days later, the Orioles shut out the Cleveland Indians in both games of a doubleheader. The last time the O’s swept a doubleheader with two shutouts was ... 1974.

Not only did both of the aforementioned events happen during the 1974 Orioles season, they also overlapped. That 1974 doubleheader shutout came during the Orioles’ historic scoreless innings streak that ultimately reached 54.

A weekend of pitching excellence in Baltimore and Washington highlighted the historical greatness of Orioles pitching. Let’s revisit a critical week in team history.

The 1974 scoreless inning streak came as part of a pivotal 10-game win streak that started on Aug. 29 for the Orioles, who found themselves two games below .500, in fourth place in the six-team American League East and eight games back of the first-place Red Sox. By the time the win streak reached 10 games on Sept. 7, the O’s were 73-65, in second place in the East and one game back of the first-place Yankees. They weren’t done there.

The O’s put together a nine-game win streak to end the 1974 season and win the division by two games over the Yankees. So the scoreless innings streak, including the doubleheader shutouts, was pivotal, serving as a central element of that season’s narrative and not simply an impressive footnote.

The doubleheader sweep, which happened on Sept. 6, 1974, featured 2-0 and 1-0 victories over the Indians, the same franchise against which the O’s would repeat the feat some 40 years later. Prior to that, the gap between doubleheader shutouts was four days. The scoreless innings streak featured two doubleheader shutouts, the first coming with a sweep of the Red Sox on Sept. 2.

Ross Grimsley got things started in earnest with a complete-game shutout of the Red Sox in Game 1 of the Sept. 2 doubleheader. Mike Cuellar, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Cuellar (a second time) all followed suit with complete-game shutouts of their own.

Think about that for a moment: five consecutive complete-game shutouts. The Orioles had three complete-game shutouts total in 2014, one of which was Kevin Gausman’s rain-shortened effort of five innings versus Yankees; the 1974 Orioles had five complete-game shutouts in a week.

You’ll also notice that the Orioles were working with a four-man rotation in 1974. Of the four starters, only Palmer pitched fewer than 200 innings. He was also the only right-handed pitcher in the starting rotation. Grimsley led the group with 295 2/3 innings pitched. For context, David Price led the majors with 248 1/3 innings pitched last season.

Grimsley completed eight innings on Sept. 7; he allowed a leadoff double and a two-run homer in the ninth inning of a 3-2 Orioles victory against the Indians to end the scoreless innings streak.

If you’re doing the math, those five complete games and the final eight-inning effort by Grimsley add up to 53. The 54th inning actually came on Sept. 1; McNally pitched a complete game but allowed one run in the eighth inning before tossing a scoreless ninth inning to start the streak.

The 1974 Orioles finished 91-71 and bowed out of the playoffs to the Athletics for the second consecutive season.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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