When I look back at a championship team, I like to try to find a game from their season that tells you that the championship was meant to be. Admittedly, it’s a bit contrived on my part, but I am a believer that championships are won long before the last pitch is thrown or last swing is taken.
In the case of the 1971 Pirates, I don’t profess to know them that well, but in looking at the box score of their game with the Padres on July 15, I’m of the belief that probably was their game to savor.
The Pirates trailed by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning. They trailed by a run in the bottom of the 13th inning. And they trailed by a run in the bottom of the 16th inning. And they won the game
The ninth-inning tying run came home on a sacrifice fly by Gene Alley. But the tying run in the 16th was a little more exciting. Padres pitcher Al Severinsen struck out the first two batters and then faced Willie Stargell, who had struck out four times and popped to third. But remember, this is Hall-of-Famer Willie Stargell and in what was a Hall-of-Fame kind of moment, Stargell homered to tie the game.
Richie Hebner had a similar moment, albeit this one with one out in the 16th inning, also homering to tie the game.
Since the Padres seemingly refused to win this one (their 61-100 record makes sense), it was left to another Hall-of-Famer to end this one. Roberto Clemente came up with one out in the bottom of the 17th inning. He was 0-for-7 for the game. Guess what?
He homered to right field to win the game.
The Pirates went on to win the World Series, beating the Orioles in 7 games. They won Game 7 in Baltimore to clinch the series, with Clemente hitting the go-ahead home run. They knew that was doable from winning games like this one.