The 1974 NL East and AL East division races go overlooked in history, probably because neither of the winners went to the World Series. So they’re remembered locally by people a little older than I am, but they’re footnotes to other notable seasons by these franchises.
But these were two amazing races and walk-offs had a LOT to do with who came out on top.
The Orioles trailed the Yankees by 2 1/2 games for the AL East lead with 14 left to play (15 for the Yankees). But they put on a heck of a final kick to overtake the Bronx Bombers. First, they won three straight games in Yankee Stadium, to move in front. Then they took two of three from the Red Sox, after which they were one game up on the Yankees (though it should be noted, the loss was one in which the Red Sox walked-off after tying the game with four runs in the ninth).
Baltimore returned home for five games and won all five, four of which were by one run and three of which were by walk-off.
The first required scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth to overcome a 4-2 deficit. Tommy Davis’ two-out, two-run single against Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich brought home the winning runs. That win was necessary to staying in first place, because the Yankees walked-off on the Red Sox that night.
The next day’s walk-off required patience. It didn’t happen until the bottom of the 17th inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Bob Oliver hit a slow grounder to third base on which Brewers third baseman Don Money could not make a play. The Orioles won, 1-0. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this game was the length of the pitcher’s duel. Hall-of-Famer Jim Palmer pitched 12 scoreless innings for the Orioles. Jim Colborn pitched 13 innings of zeroes for the Brewers.
The last of the walk-offs was less dramatic. Boog Powell walked with the bases loaded to snap a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth.
The Orioles went back on the road, swept a three-game series from the Tigers and won the division by two games.
The NL portion is more about one game than a stretch of games, though the 1974 Pirates also had an impressive end run, going 8-2 in their last 10 games (though one of the losses was an epic 13-12, 11-inning defeat vs the Cardinals that took them out of first place).
Entering their final game of the season, the Pirates led the NL East by a game. A win or a Cardinals loss would give the Pirates the division title. The Cardinals game with the Expos got rained out, so it was up to the Pirates to take care of business themselves.
That didn’t look like it would happen. The Cubs led the Pirates 4-0 before the Bucs even got up to bat. The Pirates would chip away, scoring once in the third and once in the fifth, but still trailed 4-2 going to the bottom of the ninth. This was a rowdy affair in this regard. Fans, unhappy with a call made on a play at the plate in the fourth inning, began aiming at Cubs players with bottles, fruit(!) and golf balls. The umpires threatened a forfeit, but the game played on.
If I told you the Pirates tied the game without recording a hit, would you believe me?
That’s what happened. Walks to Richie Zisk and Manny Sanguillen got things started. Ed Kirkpatrick bunted both runners over. Dave Parker then produced a run with a ground out, the second out of the inning.
The Pirates were down to their final out, then their final strike, then their final huff and puff and prevailed each time. With the tying run at third base, Bob Robertson struck out on a curveball from Cubs pitcher Rick Reuschel. But the ball broke in and got away from Cubs catcher Steve Swisher. Robertson raced for first base as Swisher retrieved the ball. A good throw and Robertson would have been out. This throw hit Robertson, allowing the tying run to score.
In the bottom of the 10th, the Pirates pulled it out. A triple by Al Oliver set everything up. After two intentional walks, he would score on Manny Sanguillen’s slow grounder to third on which Cubs third baseman Bill Madlock could not make a play. The Pirates were NL East champs.