- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

After unexpectedly beating Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax in the first two games of the 1966 World Series at Dodger Stadium, the Baltimore Orioles returned to a raucous greeting from 9,000 fans at Friendship (now Baltimore-Washington International) Airport. One man held up a pleading sign: "Please don't sweep them I have tickets to Game 5."

Sorry, pal. The young Orioles did sweep the heavily favored Dodgers in one of the great upsets of Series history a feat that pushes back into memory this weekend as Los Angeles returns to Baltimore for the first time since.

"The sweep was totally surreal," Orioles broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer recalled this week. "It wasn't supposed to be that easy, and it never was again. I guess it was just meant to be."

That's as good an explanation as any. The Orioles have won five pennants and two World Series since, but nothing else quite matches their first.

In 1966, the Orioles were only 13 years removed from their previous incarnation as the hapless, helpless St. Louis Browns. They had improved steadily, but no pennant graced their flagpole until they obtained slugging outfielder Frank Robinson from the dum-dum Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Milt Pappas and two throw-ins on Dec. 9, 1965 one of the best or worst trades in baseball history, depending on your viewpoint.

In concert with superb third baseman Brooks Robinson, "F.Robby" won the Triple Crown (.316 average, 49 home runs, 122 RBI) as the Orioles captured the pennant by eight games over the defending champion Minnesota Twins. But almost nobody gave them a chance against the Dodgers' strong pitching. Although Drysdale had an off year (13-16), Koufax went 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA in his final season and Phil Regan was 14-1 with a 1.62 in relief. Other starters included Claude Osteen (17-14) and Don Sutton (12-12), both with ERAs under 3.00.

Statistically, the Orioles' pitching didn't compare. At 20, Palmer had the most victories on the baby-faced staff (15-10). Dave McNally was 13-6, Wally Bunker 10-6 and Takoma Park's Steve Barber 10 and Barber was out for the Series because of an injury. The Orioles had no Koufaxes or Drysdales, intimidating pitchers who scared opponents spitless.

In those days, no League Championship Series or night World Series games existed, so the Series started on the afternoon of Oct., just three days after the season ended. The Orioles were ready. As a national audience watched, the Robinsons slugged back-to-back, first-inning homers off Drysdale, who was starting because Koufax had pitched the pennant-clincher against San Francisco on the final day of the season.

Leading 3-0, Orioles starter McNally couldn't stand prosperity. The Dodgers scored a run in the second, and when McNally walked the bases full in the third, manager Hank Bauer took his hook to the mound and summoned Moe Drabowsky from the bullpen.

Drabowsky was a journeyman right-hander better known for practical jokes than pitching. The Orioles were his fifth team in 11 major league seasons, and though he went 6-0 with a 2.81 ERA as a setup man in '66, nobody figured him as a key man in the Series.

That was a mistake. Pitching as he never had before and never would again, Drabowsky fired his fastball at the Dodgers' powder-puff hitters with devastating effect, striking out 11 over 6⅔ innings in the best World Series relief effort ever as the Orioles won 5-2. And when he walked in a run before settling down in that third inning, it was the last the Dodgers would score in the Series. Unbelievably, Drabowsky and his fellow pitchers shut them out for the next 33 innings.

Although already feeling the effects of tendinitis that would curtail his next two seasons, Palmer picked up the torch in Game 2, tossing a four-hit shutout to beat the unbeatable Koufax 6-0. Dodgers center fielder Willie Davis sabotaged his superstar pitcher by committing three errors in the fifth inning as the Orioles scored three runs. (A sign at Memorial Stadium during the next game: "Thanks, Willie Davis, Our 10th Oriole.")

"My goal was not to embarrass myself I was too immature to be nervous," Palmer told Baltimore columnist John Eisenberg in the latter's book "From 33rd Street to Camden Yards." "I was still learning to pitch at that point, and I didn't have nearly the command I would have later. But I had it that day. I was no dope. I had watched Moe throwing all those fastballs the day before, and I got the message. I threw hard, and they couldn't hit it."

Nine days short of his 21st birthday, Palmer was the youngest man to win a World Series game. When the Series resumed at flag-bedecked Memorial Stadium on Oct.8, the Orioles turned to Bunker, who already was 21, and he beat Osteen 1-0 on Paul Blair's home run in the fifth inning one of only three Baltimore hits.

Now the stunned Dodgers needed somebody to put them out of their misery, and McNally obliged the next day with a four-hitter and another 1-0 victory on the strength of Frank Robinson's fourth-inning homer.

At the finish, third baseman Brooks Robinson leaped for joy and thousands upon thousands of Orioles fans leaped with him. "Would You Believe Four Straight?" the Baltimore Sun asked in a front-page headline the next day, using the catch phrase from the TV show "Get Smart."

The Orioles won the Series with a team batting average of .200. Three years later, coach Billy Hunter ran into Drysdale and told him how ridiculous it was that Baltimore had lost the '69 Series to the New York Mets because the Orioles had the better team. Drysdale smiled and said, "That's how we felt in '66."

A lot of people don't believe what happened 36 years ago in La La Land and Charm City. If the Dodgers manage to beat the Orioles this weekend at Camden Yards, we shouldn't begrudge them the triumph. They're long overdue.


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