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On This Date in Sports October 17, 1971: Roberto Clemente's Showcase

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series, defeating the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 at Memorial Stadium in Game 7. Steve Blass wins his second game of the series, but the story is Roberto Clemente, who wins the World Series MVP. Clemente had a crucial home run in Game 7, his second of the series, while batting .414 with four RBI while making several key plays in the field. 

The Baltimore Orioles were seeking to repeat. In the World Series for the third consecutive season, they posted a record of 101-57 for Earl Weaver. The Orioles had strong pitching, becoming the first team in 51 years to have four 20-game winners, with Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Jim Palmer, and Pat Dobson. The Orioles made quick work of the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS, winning three straight. It was their third consecutive sweep of a Western Division team in the League Championship Series.


The Pittsburgh Pirates won the National League East for the second straight season, posting a record of 97-65 for Danny Murtaugh. The Pirates made news on September 1st, playing with the first all-black starting lineup. The Pirates beat the San Francisco Giants in four games to reach the World Series, losing the first game but winning the final three games in the NLCS. 

In the opening game of the World Series, Dave McNally started for the Orioles, while Dock Ellis took the mound for the Pirates. The Pirates scored three runs in the second, taking advantage of two Baltimore errors. The Orioles got one run back in the bottom of the second on a home run by Frank Robinson. The Orioles took a 4-3 lead in the third on a three-run home run by Merv Rettenmund. Don Bufford homered in the fifth to make it 5-3, as the birds began to flex their muscles, with McNally shutting the Pirates down and going the distance in a 5-3 win. Following a one-day delay, the Orioles had Jim Palmer facing Bob Johnson. The Orioles bats continued to crush the ball in Game 2, scoring 11 runs in a 14-hit attack. The Pirates' only offense came from a three-run homer by Richie Hebner in the eighth as the Orioles won 11-3. 


The series shifted to Three Rivers Stadium for Game 3, as the Pirates needed a win to avoid falling into a hopeless 3-0 hole. Steve Blass made the start, while Mike Cuellar started for the Orioles. The Pirates scratched out a run in the first, as Blass had the Orioles off-balance all day. Following an RBI by Jose Pagan in the sixth, the Orioles got their only run on a home run by Frank Robinson. However, Pittsburgh blew the game open with a three-run homer by Bob Robertson and won the game 5-1. 

Game 4 would make history before the first pitch was even thrown, as it became the first World Series game played at night. The lights shone brightly for Baltimore's Pat Dobson as Luke Walker pitched for the Pirates. Maybe the lights were too bright as Walker did not survive the first inning, giving up three runs before Bruce Kinson came on in relief. Kinson was brilliant as he allowed just one hit in six and one-third innings. The Pirates got two runs back on back-to-back doubles by Willie Stargell and Al Oliver, and they tied the game on an RBI single by Oliver in the third. In the seventh, Milt May drove in the go-ahead run as Pittsburgh tied the series with a 4-3 win, with Dave Giusti earning the save with two perfect innings. 

The sunshine was bright for Nelson Briles in Game 5, as he blanked Baltimore with a  two-hit shutout. The Pirates got two runs in the second with a home run by Bob Robertson. After Manny Sanguilen scored in the third on a Wild Pitch, the Pirates capped the scoring with an RBI by Roberto Clemente that scored Gene Clines, who led off the inning with a triple to make a loser of Dave McNally. Back in Baltimore for Game 6, the Pirates had Bob Moose on the mound looking for the World Championship. The Orioles meanwhile turned to Jim Palmer. The Pirates got a run in the second on a single by Robertson, and a run in the third on a home run by Clemente. Baltimore ended a 22-inning scoreless drought on a home run by Don Buford in the sixth, while Davey Johnson drove in Mark Belanger with the tying run in the seventh. Tied 2-2, the game went to the tenth inning, as Dave McNally came on and got Al Oliver to fly out with the bases loaded. With Bob Miller on the mound, the Orioles won the game 3-2 as Frank Robinson scored on a sac-fly by Brooks Robinson. 


The series came down to Game 7, with Mike Cuellar facing Steve Blass. Both starters were strong, as Cuellar was perfect through three, and Blass allowed just one hit. The Pirates' first hit damage in the fourth inning, as Roberto Clemente hit a two-out home run to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. In the eighth, Jose Pagan made it 2-0 with an RBI double, as Blass had the Orioles tied in knots. The Orioles scratched out a run in the bottom of the eighth as Steve Blass went to the mound in the ninth, looking to close out the Pirates' fourth World Championship. Blass would retire the Orioles in order as Merv Rettenmund grounded out to short to end the World Series.