More than just the opponents in this World Series will be familiar. It’s not just the Pirates against the Orioles for the second time in eight years; it’s a strong Pirates team against a seemingly overwhelming Orioles team. In 1971, the Pirates were anything but a fluke NL champion. They won 97 games, seven more than any other NL team. The Orioles, though, were the defending WS champions, won 101 games, and swept the ALCS from an Oakland team that also won 101 games. The Pirates won just the same.
This year’s Pirates team won 98 games, three more than a Montreal team that got red-hot late in the year, and eight more than NL West champion Cincinnati. The Orioles, though, have yet another 100-game winner, 102 to be exact, seven more than any other AL team.
These Orioles don’t have quite the same star power as the ’71 team. Gone are Frank and Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally. Gone also is reliever Grant Jackson, who’s now with the Pirates. Jim Palmer is still in the rotation and Mark Belanger is still with the team, although he’s no longer an everyday player. Manager Earl Weaver is still pulling all the strings.
But the O’s have plenty of high-performing players. The offense starts with two sluggers, right fielder Ken Singleton and 23-year-old first baseman Eddie Murray. The veteran Singleton had a career-best season, hitting 295/405/533 with 35 home runs and a team-leading 111 RBIs. Murray 295/369/475 with 25 bombs and 99 RBIs.
Weaver, with his penchant for platooning and tinkering, got huge production from a legion of outfielders who rotated through left field and, occasionally, the DH slot, as well as pinch hitting. Gary Roenicke (261/378/508) played the most, knocking 25 homers in the equivalent of about two-thirds of a season. John Lowenstein (254/351/482) added another 11 homers playing about a third of the time. Pat Kelly (288/367/536) played even less than Lowenstein and hit nine homers. Benny Ayala (256/298/523) and Terry Crowley (317/449/476), the latter primarily a pinch hitter and DH, also added power off the bench. Of course, the O’s also had a regular DH, 38-year-old Lee May, who hit 19 bombs, but there’s no DH in the Series.
The rest of Baltimore’s lineup features solid players whose strength in most cases is defense; they were the best defensive team in the AL. Catcher Rick Dempsey (239/307/351) is highly regarded behind the plate. Rich Dauer (257/305/355) plays second and Kiko Garcia (247/303/362) plays short more often than Belanger (167/273/217). Speedy Al Bumbry (285/336/376, 37 steals) mans center field.
The Orioles’ strength, as usual, is their pitching. Their workhorse is righty Dennis Martinez (15-16, 3.66), who led the majors in innings with 292.1. The most effective starters, though, are lefties Mike Flanagan and Scott MacGregor (13-6, 3.35). Flanagan (23-9, 3.08) led the majors in wins and was third with 190 strikeouts. He and Martinez totaled 34 complete games, with Martinez leading the majors. Palmer (10-6, 3.30) started only 22 games but remains formidable. Steve Stone (11-7, 3.77) was third on the team in innings behind Martinez and Flanagan.
The Orioles’ bullpen is strong, but hasn’t shouldered the burden the Pirate ‘pen has. The Bucs’ big three — Kent Tekulve, Enrique Romo and Jackson — totaled 250 appearances. The Orioles’ entire team made only 167 relief appearances, including a handful by the starters. Their ace is Don Stanhouse (7-3-21, 2.85). Sammy Stewart (8-5-1, 3.52) made a few spot starts. Lefty Tippy Martinez (10-3-3, 2.88) has been a thorn in the side of left-handed hitters for several years. Towering Tim Stoddard (3-1-3, 1.71) is the only other reliever likely to see action.