Tuesday, October 04, 2016

October 4, 1969: Paul Blair dropped a bunt in the bottom of the 12th to win game 1 of the first ALCS

Game 1 of the 1969 ALCS was a beauty.    It was the first League Championship Series game ever:   Minnesota at Baltimore.   

The Orioles won 109 games and ran away with the AL East.    The Twins won 97 and beat the A's by 9 games.

The 1969 Orioles were one of the best teams of the 20th century with Frank Robinson (32 HR), Brooks Robinson (23 HR) and Boog Powell (37 HR).    Paul Blair hit 26 HR with 20 stolen bases.

The 1969 Twins had eventual MVP Harmon Killebrew (49 HR & 140 RBI), Tony Oliva (.309, 24 HR & 101 RBI), Rod Carew (.332 and batting title) and Cesar Tovar who stole 40 bases.

The Orioles started Mike Cuellar (23-11) and the Twins went with Jim Perry (20-6).    It was a great game between two great pitchers and teams.   

The lead went back and forth and it was 3-3 in the bottom of the 12th.

This is how Jimmy Keenan remembers it:
Belanger led off the bottom of the 12th with a hard ground ball that glanced off third baseman Harmon Killebrew’s glove into left field, the official scorer ruling it a hit. It was a tough chance for Killebrew, who was playing third instead of his usual first base position. Martin made the switch in order to get hot-hitting Rich Reese’s bat in the Twins' lineup against the lefty Cuellar.
The next batter, Andy Etchebarren, laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved Belanger over to second. Don Buford grounded out to shortstop Frank Quilici, Belanger taking third on the play. Up next was Orioles center fielder Paul Blair, who was 0-for-4 with a walk for the game and mired in a 4-for-44 slump. Blair took Perranoski’s first offering for a ball and then took a mighty hack at the second pitch from the Twins reliever, fanning the air. On the next pitch, Blair surprised nearly everyone in the ballpark by dropping a bunt down the third-base line. The ball rolled about 30 feet and stopped in front of a charging Perranoski and Roseboro. Belanger, attuned to Blair’s impromptu move, got a great jump from third and raced home with the winning run before Roseboro got a handle on the ball. When asked about the play in a post-game interview Belanger told the press, “Any time Blair or Don Buford are at bat, I’m alert for that play.”4
Oriole third-base coach Billy Hunter was also thinking bunt, telling Belanger when he got to third, “Be alive, Paul’s liable to lay it down.” 
So game 1 was decided by a bunt down the 3rd base line.   It was great baseball!

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