Top Series belonged to Brooks

Sun Staff

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

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

Pitchers, catchers, fielders, hitters and baserunners had performedspectacularly for decades prior to the matchup of Cincinnati's Big Red Machineand Baltimore's unstoppable Orioles in the World Series of 1970. Then Robinsonwent state of the art.

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

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

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

Robinson speared it with a mighty lunge that carried him many feet intofoul ground. Without even turning and with only a vague idea of where firstbase 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 madscramble at home plate that saw Elrod Hendricks tag runner Bernie Carbo withhis glove but not the ball as both tumbled around, over and through plateumpire Ken Burkhart.

Brooks won the game with a home run in the seventh. "And that's just aboutthe 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 wasone of those 24-hoppers in the first inning in Cincinnati and I made a highthrow to first. I remember thinking to myself, 'Can you believe this?' You hadjust one hit in 19 at-bats against the Mets [1969 Series] and now this. Youcan't handle it!"

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

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

The first game in Baltimore saw Robinson belt two doubles, the firstknocking 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 goto his left fully as well as to his right.

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

"Next time I was up at bat, Bench said to me, 'Next time up, I'm taking nochances, I'm hitting the ball over your head.' Darned if ++ he didn't. He gota double off the wall."

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

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

The Reds got three runs in the first inning, but proved no match. Bymid-game it was 7-3 in favor of the Birds. Robinson made another spectaculargrab 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 bigdeal. Mike Cuellar was pitching, I knew a big curve was coming and Benchfigured to be out in front with the bat. My right shoe was nearly on thechalk."

Marking perhaps the most dominant show by a ballplayer in the Series wasan incident in a home half of the eighth inning. Robinson -- who was to finishwith a .429 batting average (9-for-21) after hitting .583 (7-for-12) in athree-game sweep of Minnesota in the American League playoffs -- showedmortality by taking a third strike. As one, the crowd at Memorial Stadium roseand 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 sooften on ESPN and other networks and shows when talk gets around to theSeries. I was listening to the ballgame the other night when Pittsburgh beatCincinnati and the game ended when Bobby Bonilla started a double play. Theannouncer 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 drivesall over the place, but none of them were getting through. He said, 'I knowexactly how these guys feel. I once played with a team that had the sameproblem with a guy named Brooks Robinson.' "

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

Ironically, this coming Saturday, Brooks is scheduled for a promotionalappearance at a store in Cincinnati. The Reds will be out of town playing Game4 in Oakland. Good thing. They probably wouldn't let him within 2 miles ofRiverfront Stadium.

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