Saturday, February 9, 2008

the lumber company

1971 world series
Blass and the boys celebrate
from Pittsburgh Pirates

The Lumber Company rolled to the NL East title in 1971, outdistancing the Cards by 7 games. They were led at the plate by Willie Stargell (48-125 .295), Roberto Clemente (13-86 .341), Manny Sanguillen (7-81 .319) and Bob Robertson (26-72 .271). The Bucs hammered out 788 runs on their way to 97 wins.

The pitching was solid too, although it was considered by many to be a "no name" collection of arms. Steve Blass (15-8 2.85) and Dock Ellis (19-9 3.06) picked up the bulk of the starting work while Dave Guisti (30 saves) and Mudcat Grant (7 saves) provided the righty-lefty combo that closed the deal.

They also became "the team that changed baseball" when Danny Murtaugh started the first all black major league lineup - Rennie Stennett (2B), Gene Clines (CF), Roberto Clemente (RF), Willie Stargell (LF), Manny Sanguillen (C), Dave Cash (3B), Al Oliver (1B), Jackie Hernandez (SS), and Dock Ellis (P) - on September 1 against Woody Fryman and the Phils. The players weren't even sure of its' significance at first.

Clines believed that the Pirates had used an all-black lineup several years earlier. Stargell corrected him. “No, this is the first time,” he explained. “Back in 1967, in Philadelphia, Harry Walker started eight of us, but the pitcher, Denny Ribant, was white.”

Having gotten that bit of history written, the Bucs turned the page and their attention to the NLCS against the Giants. They had edged the Dodgers by a game to win the West. The G-Men took the first game 5-4 at Candlestick, beating Blass. The Bucs swept them the rest of the way, winning 9-4, then 2-1 when Bob Johnson outdueled Juan Marichal at TRS and clinching it by a 9-5 tally.

The Giants had scored all their runs by the second inning of game #4 when Bruce Kison came in and shut them down, an omen of things to come. The series turned into a slugfest, with the two teams combining for 11 homers, 2 each by Richie Hebner, Bob Robertson, and Willie McCovey.

It was off to Memorial Stadium to meet Earl Weaver's Baltimore Orioles. The O's four starting pitchers, Pat Dobson, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Jim Palmer, all won 20 games. That hasn't been matched since, and with today's five man rotations, it may never happen again. They had some big sticks with Boog Powell, Frank Robinson and Davey Johnson.

The Birds posted a 101-61 record to win their 3rd straight AL East title. It was also the third consecutive year that it represented the AL in the World Series. In 1970 they had dispatched the Cincinnati Reds in five games and were primed to defend their championship after sweeping Charley Finley's Oakland A's.

They were heavy favorites to repeat. Weaver dismissed the Bucs, heaping piles of uncalled for abuse on SS Jackie Hernandez, saying in effect any team with him at short was destined to lose. It sure looked that way after the first game. The Bucs sprinted out of the box to claim a 3-0 lead in the second thanks to some sloppy play by Baltimore. But the O's jumped on Dock Ellis, and three home runs later had won the opener 5-3. McNally only allowed two more hits over the last 7 innings.

It got worse in the second game as the Orioles romped 11-3, pounding out 14 hits against a half dozen Pirate hurlers.

But the resilient Bucs swept the next three games at TRS. Blass shut down the O's on 3 hits and rode Bob Robertson's three run homer to a 5-1 win. Robertson's homer came on a pitch he was supposed to bunt. The sign was flashed to him twice but he managed to miss it both times. (He had never bunted during the season and probably didn't even know what the sign was.) On second base, Clemente saw the confusion and tried to call time by frantically waving his arms. Fortunately for the Pirates it was too late.

Cuellar was already in his windup. In came a screwball, a few inches outside, and out it went, into the seats in right center. Only when Robertson touched home plate and Stargell congratulated him by saying "That's the way to bunt the ball!" did he figure out what had happened. "Guess I missed a sign," he said when he reached the dugout. "Possibly," replied Murtaugh with a smile on his craggy Irish puss. Blass was sitting next to Murtaugh in the dugout when Big Red blasted the ball, and said "If you fine him (for missing the bunt sign), I'll pay." Murtaugh didn't take him up on his offer.

The next win was the Bruce Kison showcase. Murtaugh elected to start Luke Walker (he had doubts about Dock Ellis' sore arm), but Walker lasted only 22 pitches into the first before he was yanked for the combative righthander. The Bucs were down 3-0 before they came to bat, but behind the brilliant performance of Kison - he gave up one hit in 6-1/3 innings - the Pirates pulled out a 4-3 victory.

The Pirates roared back in their half of the first, plating a pair on back-to-back doubles by Stargell and Oliver. Scoops tied the game with a single in the third, and rookie backstop Milt May came off the bench to hit for Kison in the seventh and delivered a two out RBI single that proved to be the game winner. Guisti pitched the last two innings to ice the game.

It was the first night game in world series history, and Kison made the most of it. He earned the scorn of the Orioles by plunking a trio of them, still a series record. He also created a memorable scene when he crashed his scrawny body full tilt into Davey Johnson instead of sliding into second. When the dust cleared from the collision, the dazed and confused Kison picked up Johnson's Oriole cap, put it on and staggered back towards the dugout.

Murtaugh wanted to save Blass and Ellis for the last two games in Baltimore, so he trotted Nelson Briles out to face the O's in game #5. Good move. The Bucs pecked away early at McNally and won 4-0 behind Brile's masterful two-hit, complete game shutout. It was back to Baltimore, up 3 games to 2.

The Orioles prevailed in game #6, a ten inning nail biter, by the score of 3-2 when Frank Robinson beat Oliver's throw home by a gnat's eyelash after a short fly into center. Bob Moose started for the Pirates with Ellis still on the shelf. Both teams had taken full advantage of home cooking through six games, and it was up to Steve Blass to reverse the trend in game 7.

He was up to the task. Blass won by pitching a four hit complete game gem, followed by his well publicized leap into Robertson's arms after cutting down the O's 1-2-3 in the ninth. The Bucs did their damage with a Clemente home run in the fourth inning and a Jose Pagan RBI double in the eighth, an insurance run they would need when Don Buford's bouncer drove in the O's only run in the bottom of the frame.

You can only imagine the sweet feeling that swept over Jose Hernandez when he gloved Merv Rettenmund's grounder to short with two outs in the ninth and tossed it to first to complete the Buc's win. He and the Pirates had proven Weaver wrong.

It was also a validation for the NL's brand of small ball. Weaver was an advocate of playing for the three run homer (not that Murtaugh was opposed to it, as we've seen, but he didn't count on it as part of his book), and the Buc's aggressive baserunning forced the O's into several uncharacteristic mistakes in the field. Baltimore committed nine errors in the series to the Buc's three, and Pittsburgh stole 5 bases to the O's one.

Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillen, and Bob Robertson all had a strong series. Willie Stargell, oddly enough, was pretty much a non factor. The O's walked him 7 times, and he ended up hitting .208. He'd get his revenge a few years down the road.

It was Roberto Clemente that again proved himself to be the shining star of the Bucs. He extended his World Series hitting streak to 14 straight games, stroked a dozen hits while batting .414 and dazzled the O's with his glove and arm. Clemente was honored by being named the first Latino World Series MVP, a fitting conclusion to another great year. He would only have one more left.

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