Top Series belonged to Brooks

Gather 'round, young'uns, I got something to tell you about a ballplayer of some years past just in case your daddy didn't get around to filling you in.

It was on this exact date and day of the week 20 years ago that they rang down the final curtain on a World Series that will be remembered always for the exploits of one man, Brooks Robinson.

Pitchers, catchers, fielders, hitters and baserunners had performed spectacularly for decades prior to the matchup of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine and Baltimore's unstoppable Orioles in the World Series of 1970. Then Robinson went state of the art.

You name it, No. 5 did it. How good was he in the field during those five games stretched over six days? Brooks not only covered third base from the line through the shortstop hole, he enlarged his area of responsibility to beyond the line, twice retiring frustrated Reds from foul territory.

But everyone already knew the baseball didn't have much of a chance going one-on-one with Robinson, be it on the ground or in the air. What they were to learn on short order was that here was a guy who had always been vastly underrated with the stick, particularly in the clutch.

The man's first visit to the realm of the unbelievable occurred in the sixth inning of Game 1. The Birds had come back from a three-run deficit to tie it in the fifth when Lee May started the Cincy sixth with a hot smash tight to the leftfield line.

Robinson speared it with a mighty lunge that carried him many feet into foul ground. Without even turning and with only a vague idea of where first base was, Brooks launched an on-the-mark lTC heave that retired the runner. There was a walk and a couple of hits in the inning and it contained that mad scramble at home plate that saw Elrod Hendricks tag runner Bernie Carbo with his glove but not the ball as both tumbled around, over and through plate umpire Ken Burkhart.

Brooks won the game with a home run in the seventh. "And that's just about the first time I felt settled down and relaxed," he recalled.

"You know, I made an error in my very first chance in that Series. It was one of those 24-hoppers in the first inning in Cincinnati and I made a high throw to first. I remember thinking to myself, 'Can you believe this?' You had just one hit in 19 at-bats against the Mets [1969 Series] and now this. You can't handle it!"

Next day, in Game 2, the O's fell behind again and the deficit might have been six or seven runs had it not been for Robinson. The victim was May once again. Brooks converted a sure double into a double play, eliciting May's famous "Hoover" vacuum cleaner remark. A single by Brooks in the fifth inning made it 5-5 before the O's prevailed, 6-5.

"I had another play in that game, against Johnny Bench, and as we came home to play Game 3 I began to get the idea that something very unusual was happening here," Robinson said. "Sometimes you go a week without a tough play and here I was getting opportunities to make plays left and right."

The first game in Baltimore saw Robinson belt two doubles, the first knocking in the first two runs of a game in which the home team never trailed. Bench hit a ball again, this time into the hole, and Brooks proved he could go to his left fully as well as to his right.

The diving catch is probably the most well-known picture of a genius at work. It's the one where he's fully extended in the prone position with the left hand and glove raised slightly as if to say, "Looking for the ball? Here it is."

"Next time I was up at bat, Bench said to me, 'Next time up, I'm taking no chances, I'm hitting the ball over your head.' Darned if ++ he didn't. He got a double off the wall."

With a 3-0 lead in games, the O's closed in for the kill. Brooks Robinson did his part in Game 4. Among his four hits was a home run. But the Big Red Machine lived to fight one more day, and that's exactly how much longer the Reds lasted.

Monday, Oct. 15, 1970, began with heavy rain and it was still overcast and gloomy with intermittent showers just before game time. That's when catcher Andy Etchebarren, coming into the dugout and checking the skies, uttered his immortal line: "Brooksie, make it stop raining."

The Reds got three runs in the first inning, but proved no match. By mid-game it was 7-3 in favor of the Birds. Robinson made another spectacular grab of a line drive by Bench, this one in foul ground.

"For years people have asked me, 'How could you be there?' It was no big deal. Mike Cuellar was pitching, I knew a big curve was coming and Bench figured to be out in front with the bat. My right shoe was nearly on the chalk."

Marking perhaps the most dominant show by a ballplayer in the Series was an incident in a home half of the eighth inning. Robinson -- who was to finish with a .429 batting average (9-for-21) after hitting .583 (7-for-12) in a three-game sweep of Minnesota in the American League playoffs -- showed mortality by taking a third strike. As one, the crowd at Memorial Stadium rose and gave him a standing ovation all the way back to the dugout.

"The thing about 1970," Brooks says today, "is you see flashbacks to it so often on ESPN and other networks and shows when talk gets around to the Series. I was listening to the ballgame the other night when Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati and the game ended when Bobby Bonilla started a double play. The announcer referred to it as a Robinson-like play. I liked that.

"And Johnny Bench was doing a game in which a team was hitting line drives all over the place, but none of them were getting through. He said, 'I know exactly how these guys feel. I once played with a team that had the same problem with a guy named Brooks Robinson.' "

Of course, the third baseman was the Series MVP and he was awarded the prestigious Hickok Belt. To him and to this day, though, getting the job done on the wings of "wishing I had done more against the Mets the year before" was always the most important thing.

Ironically, this coming Saturday, Brooks is scheduled for a promotional appearance at a store in Cincinnati. The Reds will be out of town playing Game 4 in Oakland. Good thing. They probably wouldn't let him within 2 miles of Riverfront Stadium.

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