Monday, January 19, 2015

#11 The Unlikely Hero

There are certain A's games that when they get brought up nearly every A’s fan will remember and talk about them at great length. For some reason, the game featured as Win #11 in our 25 Greatest A's Win's weekly countdown is not one of those games, but as you’ll find out in this post, it’s one that should be talked about more often! 

So many great story lines came out of this game and on this day, your Oakland A’s got one step closer to winning their second straight pennant.

After a few posts in the 21st Century, we now return to October 9, 1973, for game 3 of the 1973 American League Championship Series. Dick Williams and the 1973 A’s were used to hard fought playoff series, in fact, up to that point, every playoff series they had been in had gone the distance. Once again, Earl Weaver’s Baltimore Orioles proved that this series was going to go down to the wire.  The teams seemed evenly matched, loaded with great pitching to go along with timely hitting. Weaver’s Orioles had won 3 American League pennants in a row between 1969-1971, and one of those came at the expense of the A’s in 1971. The Orioles would win the title in 1970 and they’d nearly repeat in 1971 before losing in 7 games.

Up to this point, the series had left Baltimore Memorial Stadium split 1-1. The Orioles took game 1 behind their ace Jim Palmer who pitched a complete game shutout while Vida Blue was knocked out in the first inning.  Game 1 ended 6-0 Orioles. Game 2 was where the A’s showed true to their moniker as the “Swingin’ A’s” where they belted the Orioles starter, Dave McNally, hitting 4 home runs in a 6-3 win for Oakland. Two of those game 2 home runs came off the bat of the captain, Sal Bando and A’s leadoff man, Bert Campaneris, who hit the “Rickey Henderson” shot.   For those of you who don’t know, the "Rickey Henderson" is a home run to leadoff the game (Rickey hit more leadoff home runs than anyone all-time). 

After two split games in Baltimore, the series would head to Oakland for the final three games (2-3 being the championship series format at that time). Game 3 would be a tremendous matchup between two veterans in Mike Cuellar of the Orioles and Ken Holtzman of the A’s. For the 34,367 in attendance at the Coliseum, this game was one that none of them will forget.

There was no offensive prowess in the first inning, which would be a foreshadowing for much of the game, but there is one thing to note. Holtzman would find himself in a jam due to an uncharacteristic Dick Green error but he’d then strikeout the young, Don Baylor to end the inning. Cuellar would face the minimum with no strikeouts.

The second inning would not be too kind to Ken Holtzman. The leadoff hitter, and the future Hall of Famer, Brooks Robinson would groundout to his opposite number, Sal Bando for the first out. The next batter would provide the Orioles' solo spark of offense for the day.  Earl Williams would get a Holtzman fastball up and in, but Holtzman caught too much of the plate, and Williams made him pay by launching it over the left field wall for a solo homer. With Holtzman possibly still frustrated about giving up that home run, Andy Etchebarren would then line out but luckily it didn’t cost him. Holtzman clearly refocused by striking out, Mark Belanger to end the inning. The score after one and a half was 1-0 Orioles.

In the bottom of the second, Reggie Jackson would continue his frustrating slump in the series by striking out, he only had one hit for the series and the A’s were going to have to find a way to step up with the 1973 AL MVP struggling. In the scoreless inning, Deron Johnson would walk to give the A’s their first baserunner but he’d get no further as Cuellar’s slider and screwball were keeping the A’s off balance.

The next several innings would provide almost no offense, and not only that, the innings were going by quick since strikeouts were coupled with quick at bats. Batters clearly didn’t have a clue on how to beat these pitchers. Holtzman would say after the game that he didn’t have his best stuff, his curveball really wasn’t working so he only threw it a few times while going with the fastball the majority of his outing. Cuellar on the other hand, was doing it with nasty breaking pitches like his slider and his screwball that forced A’s hitters to guess pitches.

After Holtzman gave up the homer to Earl Williams, he’d retire the next 11 batters before giving up a walk to Tommy Davis in the top of the 7th, and that walk would get cancelled out by a 1-4-3 (there’s a popular pager message. Right, Ray J?) double play hit by Don Baylor. Brooks Robinson would then reach on a Dick Green error which was his second error of the day, but Holtzman would show great poise by getting Earl Williams to hit into a force at second to end the inning with no damage done.

The bottom of the 7th was more of the same from Cuellar. He’d get strikeouts of Tenace and Johnson in a one-two-three inning. With Cuellar definitely going the distance, the A’s needed to find the solution rather quickly - needing a run with only 6 outs left. Holtzman would get a one-two-three inning in the top of the 8th against the Orioles bottom of the order.

In the bottom of the 8th, Dick Williams knew he had to take no chances with his personnel decisions. He looked to his bench where Jesus Alou was chomping at the bit for an opportunity. Williams called Alou's number to pinch hit for Ray Fosse. Jesus Alou would get a bit of luck to go the A’s way as his hit to left field fell down for a bloop single. Suddenly, the A’s had a possible lifeline.  Dick Williams wasted no time in pinch running for Alou with the speedy, Allan Lewis. He’d then pinch hit Dick Green with Mike Andrews and immediately ordered him to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Andrews laid one down and it wasn’t the greatest bunt in the world, Cuellar had a play at second and Orioles catcher, Andy Etchebarren yelled at Cuellar to throw to second but apparently Cuellar couldn’t hear him due to the crowd noise and he threw to first to get the out there. This is all came from Etchebarren’s quote about the play after the game. It wasn’t even a capacity crowd, and Etchebarren would go onto say that the crowd is where the real advantage is as the playing surfaces play similar.

The A’s might’ve been fortunate in that situation, but the execution by the A’s was still impressive. Campaneris would strikeout in the next at bat, making it two outs in the inning. Just when A’s fans might have thought that their opportunity had been dashed, Joe Rudi was there to save the day. Cuellar would jam Rudi inside and he even broke Rudi’s bat but the ball dropped down in the outfield and Lewis raced around third to tie the game at 1-1!

In the top of the 9th, Gene Tenace would move from first to catcher and Vic Davilillo would come in to play first. Ted Kubiak would replace Mike Andrews at second to complete Oakland's defensive changes. A complete game was on the line for Hotlzman as he prepared to face the Orioles middle of the order. Holtzman would get the scrappy Grich to fly out but then Paul Blair would slap a single to center and all of a sudden there was some concern. The concern only grew worse when Tommy Davis would hit a grounder to Davalillo at first.  Davalillo would step on first and then throw to second to try and get the the double play, but the throw was wide and landed in the outfield. Blair raced to third as a result. An error was given to Davalillo, and now there were two outs in the inning with a runner on third for Don Baylor. Don Baylor had already failed twice with runners on the base, and he had a chance to redeem himself in this at bat. Meanwhile, Dick Williams had Rollie Fingers warming up in the bullpen. Managers like Leo Durocher would have probably gone with Fingers in this at bat, but that was never Williams’ style, he liked to give his starters a long leash and allow them to pitch out of trouble.

Williams’ loyalty to Holtzman was rewarded as Baylor struck out, failing once again in a critical situation. It was a huge moment in the game and Holtzman showed real determination in getting Baylor for the third out.

Until the bottom of the 11th inning, both pitchers would stay in the game with neither pitcher showing any signs of fatigue, something unheard of in today’s MLB. From the bottom of the 9th to the bottom of the 11th, neither team would see a baserunner with both pitchers giving pitching performances for the ages.

Then came the bottom of the 11th, leading off the inning would be Bert Campaneris. The A’s leadoff hitter had struggled the last month of the season and had only hit 4 homers during the year which was a low that he hadn’t experienced since 1969. He had hit one in Baltimore during game 2 but by no means was anyone expecting Campaneris to flash power as he was more regarded for being a speedy, contact hitter.

In the at bat, Campaneris was looking for a slider inside. He wanted to see if he could hit it down the line with Robinson playing off the line. Campaneris got the pitch from Cuellar that he was looking for and when he hit it, he knew it was going a long way. Campaneris watched the ball with both eyes and he started to think it might be caught by the way the left fielder, Don Baylor was playing it. Baylor then stood at the wall, jumped up and when he came down, he didn’t have the ball. The ball had gone over the wall for a walk-off home run! Not just any walk-off, this was the first postseason walk-off home run in Oakland A’s history! 

Campaneris raised both fists in the air in celebration, Dick Williams gave Holtzman a huge hug in appreciation of his wonderful performance in this game. 

And all of a sudden, the A’s were one win away from the World Series!

This walk-off home run was ranked by David Schoenfield of as the 21st greatest postseason walk-off in history (though the list was made back in 2011). On the Baltimore side,’s Dwayne Showalter ranked this home run as one of the most devastating home runs given up by the Orioles in Showalter’s lifetime. Yup, it’s right up there with Raul Ibanez’s heroics in the 2012 ALDS.

And in a game where two pitchers went more than just the distance, but went into the 11th inning and considering the fact that it was a pivotal playoff game, this game climbed up our list. Campy surprised everyone (including the local media) by providing the blast and becoming the hero of the game. Amazingly, Campy had only hit four homers during the entire regular season, and yet with this home run, he has already reached half that total for the postseason.

We were not able to find any videos or color photographs from this game. The pictures in this post came from the archive known as

We’ll be doing more on the 1973 A’s later on in this countdown, so stay tuned. And also, if you are just stumbling across this weekly series, now’s a great time to start - the top 10 wins is filled with epic moments that all A’s fans will likely remember well! We're all over it! 

Stay tuned, we’re starting the top 10 next week!

-- Wes
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