Remembering my biggest Orioles heartbreaks as a fan

The sports shutdown has led fans and media to come up with all sorts of lists to provide entertainment and kill a few hours. Twitter is filled with them. You can’t swing a dead opening day article without hitting one.

I’m more of a lurker than a participant, but I did name the Colts leaving Baltimore as my most heartbreaking sports moment. No team can replace them in my heart.

No offense to the Ravens, but the 1970s Colts will always be my sports love. The improbable run to the playoffs in ‘75 ranks among my biggest thrills.

The birth of my daughter finally bumped it from the top spot.

It didn’t get much better than listening on radio as Chuck Thompson brought the game into my living room. How he recited where each player lined up before the first snap - starting with receiver Roger Carr and going across the offensive line to tight end Raymond Chester and receiver Glenn “Shake and Bake” Doughty on the opposite side, with quarterback Bert Jones and a backfield formation of Lydell Mitchell and Roosevelt Leaks or Bill Olds.

(Leaks was drafted out of the University of Texas and Olds out of the University of Nebraska. I’m good at remembering the important stuff in life.)

Thompson would offer the uniform colors and whether the Colts were moving left to right or right to left. The man really could paint a picture.

I survived the playoff losses, including a blowout to the Steelers in ‘76 and “Ghost to the Post” in ‘77, but the move to Indianapolis left scars.

The Orioles also broke my heart before I joined the beat and had to shed my fandom. When it became a business and the weather and time of game often dictated my mood.

Here’s my partial list. Please feel free to share yours:

1971 World Series
I was too young to remember the Amazin’ Mets’ upset in 1969. My first memories were born the following year. Nice timing.

And then came ‘71 and a Pirates team that won Game 7 at Memorial Stadium as I sat in front of the television and tried to fight back the tears.

My father took me to my first game and it happened to be Game 2 of the Series, with the Orioles winning 11-3. Jim Palmer started. Future Orioles minor league manager Richie Hebner provided all of the scoring for the Pirates with a three-run homer in the eighth.

Palmer can recite the count, the pitch thrown, its location. As if it happened yesterday.

The game was postponed due to rain and rescheduled for a Monday. My father insisted that we were going and didn’t care that I had to miss a day of school. Loved that man.

Game 7 was played in only 2 hours, 10 minutes. Roberto Clemente, named Most Valuable Player, homered off Mike Cuellar in the fourth inning. Steve Blass went the distance for the second time, the only run scoring on Don Buford’s ground ball in the eighth.

The Orioles needed 10 innings to win Game 6 and extend the Series. They actually outscored the Pirates 24-23. But it didn’t matter.

Future Orioles pitching coach and scout Bruce Kison earned the win in Game 4, the first played at night in Series history, with one hit allowed in 6 1/3 scoreless relief innings. He was 21 years old and looked like he was 12.

Kison also pitched for the Pirates in 1979, which leads me to ...

orioles-fans-kids-pumped.jpg1979 World Series
The Orioles took a three-games-to-one lead in the Series. They fell hard in Game 5, losing 7-1, but I shrugged and thought, “Now they can clinch at home.”

Stupid me.

Palmer and John Candelaria kept Game 6 scoreless through six innings. Dave Parker had an RBI single in the seventh, Willie Stargell followed with a sacrifice fly and the Orioles bats stayed ice cold.

I took a deep breath, shrugged and thought, “Now they can clinch at home in Game 7.”

Again, stupid me.

I’ve watched replays of Game 7 and keep waiting for Scott McGregor to retire Stargell in the sixth inning, but Pops hits a go-ahead two-run homer every time.

Manager Earl Weaver used five relievers in the ninth - Tim Stoddard, Mike Flanagan, Don Stanhouse, Tippy Martinez and Dennis Martinez. The Pirates tacked on two more runs, their fans kept singing “We Are Family,” Omar Moreno’s wife kept blowing a whistle and I kept wanting to vomit.

1973 and 1974 American League Championship Series
I’m going to lump them together because that’s how my mind treats them.

The Orioles had two great teams that ran into an Oakland dynasty, and the result was two huge disappointments for this kid.

Palmer pitched a complete-game shutout with 12 strikeouts to defeat Vida Blue in Game 1 of the ‘73 ALCS at Memorial Stadium. Catfish Hunter outdueled Dave McNally in Game 2. The star power in this series was ridiculous.

The A’s won Game 3 2-1 on Bert Campaneris’ leadoff home run in the bottom of the 11th inning. Ken Holtzman and Mike Cuellar both went the distance. Not a single reliever used.

The Orioles won Game 4 5-4 after rallying for four runs in the seventh to tie the score. Andy Etchebarren hit a three-run homer off Blue in the inning and Bobby Grich took Rollie Fingers deep in the eighth.

Palmer lasted only 1 1/3 innings and allowed three runs and four hits with two walks. Bob Reynolds held the A’s to one run in 4 2/3 and Grant Jackson, a nemesis with the Pirates in 1979, tossed 2 2/3 hitless and scoreless innings.

Teed up for more heartbreak, I watched the Orioles lose Game 5 3-0 with Hunter tossing a five-hit shutout. Palmer relieved Doyle Alexander in the fourth and turned in 4 1/3 scoreless innings.

Brooks Robinson collected two hits, but also committed a costly error that led to a run in the third.

The rematch in 1974 was worse. The Orioles lost three games to one by dropping the last three after opening the series with a 6-3 win in Oakland.

I’ll never forget the 1-0 loss in Game 3. Palmer versus Blue. The only run provided by Sal Bando, who homered in the fourth inning.

Time of game: 1 hour, 57 minutes.

Grich and Don Baylor singled for the only hits off Blue. I didn’t blink for nine innings.

The A’s closed out the series with a 2-1 win in Game 4 at Memorial Stadium. Just excruciating.

Cuellar and Ross Grimsley combined to hold the A’s to one hit. Cuellar walked nine batters, including four in the top of the fifth, and came out after 4 2/3 innings. Grimsley allowed one run and the only hit, a Reggie Jackson RBI double in the seventh, in 4 1/3 innings.

“Cueller doesn’t walk guys and they were pitches that, he got squeezed big-time,” Grimsley, an 18-game winner with a 3.07 ERA in ‘74, said earlier this week. “He doesn’t walk nine guys. That doesn’t happen. I’ll never forget it. They were balls that were right there that could have gone either way and some of them were strikes. They just didn’t get called for whatever reason.

“I came in and Reggie hit a double to left field off the wall and that was the only hit. I’m going, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It was so deflating.

“We had the pitching to beat them. We knew that. And it just didn’t happen. We didn’t score any runs. And we were playing a lot of one-run games that season.”

Boog Powell delivered a two-out RBI single off Fingers in the ninth, but Baylor struck out and I probably headed upstairs to cry.

“The season was kind of ho-hum as it was going along,” Grimsley said. “I think July and August we were under .500 and I’ll never forget they called a meeting. I think it was at (Mark) Belanger’s house, and everybody comes over there. The thing was, Earl Weaver was playing for the three-run homer and we didn’t have the guys to hit the three-run home runs at that time. The pitching was so good and we were on such a streak toward the end of the year that we decided, if a guy gets on early in the game, move him over. Just try to get him in. If we get a lead early, there’s a good chance we’re going to win. So we started moving guys over, playing small ball to the max. I’ll never forget it.

“We were eight or nine games out toward the end of August and just went on this streak that was unbelievable. I know Earl would look and go, ‘What are they doing?’ Two guys would get on and they’d bunt him over and end up getting a run. Getting a run early was a big thing because it took away what the offense on the other team could do. And if we got a two- or a three-run lead, that was golden right there. We were living high on the hog then.

“We ended up going like 27-6 (actually 28-6) the rest of the way. And we played well against Oakland. I actually thought the way we were playing, if we scored a couple of runs, we had a good chance of winning. We thought there was a good chance we could beat these guys and go to the World Series.

“The last game was just so deflating. We played so well and pitched so well that you lose and you’re going, ‘That wasn’t supposed to happen.’”

Final game of the 1982 season
The Brewers needed one win in the series at Memorial Stadium to clinch a berth in the American League Championship Series, but the Orioles outscored them 26-7 while claiming the first three games.

It basically came down to a one-game playoff on a Sunday afternoon, with Palmer opposing Don Sutton.

Glenn Gulliver homered for the Orioles, but Robin Yount homered twice off Palmer and Ben Oglivie made a sliding catch in the left field corner - disappearing from view - to kill a rally in the eighth. The Brewers scored five runs in the ninth off Dennis Martinez and Flanagan and won 10-2.

Such a tremendous letdown.

The game also is remembered for the crowd’s prolonged ovation for Weaver, who had announced his retirement. Weaver was crying on the field and Howard Cosell actually found something nice to say about Baltimore.

The series with the Brewers was thrilling and gave us a winner-take-all scenario that didn’t seem possible on Friday. But the Orioles swept a doubleheader and won 11-3 on Saturday.

Just when they get your hopes up ...

I don’t want to accuse Sutton of scuffing the baseball, but getting permission to wear his lucky power sander is going to raise suspicions.

The loss to the Indians in the 1997 ALCS would have made the list if I hadn’t been a reporter covering the team. The Orioles were the best team in baseball and you can’t change my mind. They should have been heading to Cleveland up two-games-to-none.

Armando Benítez loved his slider. So did Marquis Grissom and Tony Fernández.

I’ll always remember a team official sitting behind home plate the following spring, watching Benitez pitch and saying, “Go ahead and throw another slider, Demando.”

Roberto Alomar was called out on strikes to end the series on a pitch that almost hit him. He spun out of the box to avoid contact and was rung up by plate umpire Mike Reilly.

The umpires were waiting for a chance to get back at Alomar following the “spitting incident” with John Hirschbeck, who was working third base that day.

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