by Harold Friend
The Minnesota Twins and the Baltimore Orioles were the first teams to win American League divisional titles. In 1969, the Twins won 97 games to finish nine games ahead of second place Oakland, while the Birds from Baltimore won 109 games, which was 19 games better than runner-up Detroit.
The Twins Were Better Than We Thought
Managed by the great and now politically incorrect Billy Martin, the Twins were a lot better than many realized. They almost beat the Orioles in the playoffs, but almost never counts, and the 1969 Western Division Champions have become a forgotten team.
Two Twenty Game Winners
Minnesota had two twenty game winners, which is going to be more than the 2009 American League will produce. Thirty-three year old Jim Perry, the brother of Hall of Fame cheater Gaylord Perry, was 20-6, with a 2.82 ERA. He worked 261 two-thirds innings.
Dave Boswell, whom Billy Martin had beaten up in August because Boswell had refused to run laps with the rest of the Twins, was 20-12, with a 3.23 ERA over 256 and one-third innings. In 1969, effective twenty-four year old pitchers weren't considered fragile commodities.
The Twins' Other Starters
Jim Katt (14-13, 3.49) was the Twins' third starter. Lefty Tom Hall (8-7, 3.33) and Dean Chance (5-4, 2-95) were the other starters. Ron Perranoski saved 31 games. There were no closers. There were relief pitchers. Perranoski pitched 119 and two-thirds innings in his 75 appearances, winning 9 and losing 10.
Harmon Killebrew Hit 49 Home Runs
Harmon Killebrew had his best season in 1969, hitting .276, with 49 home runs and 145 RBIs. Tony Oliva, who belongs in the Hall of Fame, hit .309, with 24 home runs and 101 RBIs. Rod Carew led the league with a .332 average. First baseman Rich Reese hit .322.
A Great First Playoff Game
The playoffs opened in Baltimore with the Jim Perry facing Mike Cuellar. The Orioles scored on solo home runs by Frank Robinson, Mark Belanger, and Boog Powell. Boog's home run tied the score at 3-3 in the ninth. Yes, starter Jim Perry was still pitching, but after Brooks Robinson singled and reached second on center fielder Ted Uhlaender's error, Martin brought in Ron Perranoski, who got out of the inning.
Tony Oliva was the Twins' offense. He doubled and scored the Twins' first run, and then hit a two-run home run.
The teams were tied at 3-3 in the 11th inning. Perranoski was due to lead off. He hit. Billy Martin wasn't concerned that he was "stretching" Perranoski for another inning, because there was no need for concern.
Paul Blair Manages Himself
Finally, the weak-hitting Mark Belanger, who had already hit a home run, led off with a single off first baseman Harmon Killebrew's glove. Andy Etchebarren, who was a worse hitter than even Belanger, sacrificed Mark to second. Don Buford grounded out to shortstop, but the alert and daring Belanger moved to third, bringing up Paul Blair.
"When Mark got to third, I decided what I was going to do. I figured I'd swing one time to try and get him home. If I couldn't, then I'd bunt."
Perranoski's first pitch to Blair was ball one. Paul then swung and missed. On the third pitch, Blair bunted toward third base. Belanger, who was alert to the squeeze play, broke for the plate before Blair bunted and scored the winning run. Blair, not manager Earl Weaver, called the play.
The Orioles Win
Game 2 was even closer. The Twins lost, 1-0 in 11 innings. Dave McNally went the distance for the Birds, limiting the Twins to three hits. Dave Boswell worked into the 11th inning. With Orioles on first and second and two outs, left-handed batter Elrod Hendricks was due to hit.
Martin brought in Perranoski. Weaver countered by having right-handed Curt Motton pinch-hit. Motton singled and the Orioles were 1-0 winners.
The Twins lost two tough games they might have won, but "might have" doesn't count. The next day, Baltimore won easily, 11-2, as Twins' starter Bob Miller lasted only into the second inning.
The Orioles were clearly the better team, but the better team doesn't always win, as the Birds were soon to discover.
By MURRAY CHASSSpecial to The New York Times. (1969, October 5). ORIOLES WIN IN THE 12TH :BALTIMORE WINS OVER TWINS, 4-3 Blair's Squeeze Hit Scores Belanger -- 39,324 See Clubs Belt 4 Homers. New York Times (1857-Current file),S1. Retrieved August 25, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 81994042).