The Houston Astros made history in winning the 2017 World Series, and not just because they brought the franchise its first championship.
The Astros (101-61), in besting the Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58), became the first 100-win club in 47 years to defeat a fellow 100-win team in the World Series.
The last team to accomplish that feat?
None other than the 1970 Orioles (108-54), who trounced the Cincinnati Reds (102-60) in the Fall Classic. That Orioles club is considered perhaps the best in Baltimore history, marking the only year in which the team won 100 or more regular-season games and the World Series.
So, that brings up a natural question: If the 1970 Orioles could go toe-to-toe with the 2017 Astros in a best-of-seven series, who would win?
Let’s imagine for a moment that a rift has developed in the space-time continuum, allowing the two teams to play each other under the conditions of their own time periods. Here’s how the series might play out.
With 108 regular-season wins, the 1970 Orioles have home-field advantage over the Astros, so the series kicks off at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. And, in true 1970 fashion, the game starts in the afternoon. That thoroughly confuses the 2017 Astros, many of whom weren’t even alive the last time a World Series game was played during the day (1987). Not only that, but with the designated hitter rule not yet in existence in 1970, the Astros lose Evan Gattis’ bat from the lineup for the games in Baltimore.
The Orioles quickly take advantage of the out-of-sorts Astros. Frank Robinson, who mashed lefties to a 1.012 OPS in the 1970 regular season, jumps on Astros’ southpaw Dallas Keuchel with a first-inning two-run homer following a Paul Blair single. Later, the Orioles manufacture another run when Davey Johnson doubles then advances and scores on a pair of groundouts.
That’s enough run support for Orioles’ 24-year-old ace Jim Palmer, who tosses eight strong innings and allows only five baserunners en route to a 3-2 Baltimore victory.
The Astros’ bats continue to be frustrated by Memorial Stadium’s pitcher-friendly dimensions. In game 2, both George Springer and Carlos Correa crush long fly balls that die on the warning track for harmless outs. On the other hand, the field conditions work out just fine for Astros’ starter Justin Verlander, who holds the Orioles scoreless into the seventh inning while racking up nine strikeouts.
The Astros’ offense finally breaks through against Orioles’ starter Mike Cuellar in the middle innings. Consecutive base hits by Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Correa and Yuli Gurriel plate three runs. Houston later adds a pair of insurance runs against reliever Eddie Watt. That gives enough cushion for the Astros’ shaky bullpen to hold on to Houston’s first win of the series, 5-1.
In the clubhouse after the game, the Astros try to celebrate by cranking up some dance music, only to remember that they’re in 1970 and none of their favorite songs have been recorded yet. Instead, they just awkwardly sway to an LP of Simon and Garfunkel.
As the series shifts to Houston, innovative Orioles’ manager Earl Weaver is intrigued to have a shiny new toy to play with: the DH. Starting pitcher Dave McNally is less enthused. It denies him the chance to help his own cause by hitting a game-icing grand slam (as he did in the ’70 Series against the Reds).
Weaver decides to plug pinch-hitting extraordinaire Terry Crowley into the lineup as his DH. Crowley goes 2-for-4, but he’s not the only Oriole hitter who has a productive night. The club quickly realizes how much the (allegedly not juiced) ball flies out of Minute Maid Park. Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and 1970 AL MVP Boog Powell all hit home runs and chase the Astros’ Lance McCullers from the game early. The Orioles then pile on against the soft underbelly of the Astros’ bullpen, including Francisco Liriano and Ken Giles.
McNally, meanwhile, bends but doesn’t break. The 27-year-old lefty and AL Cy Young runner-up surrenders a pair of homers, but gets through seven innings without further trouble. Relievers Moe Drabowsky and Pete Richert close things out to put the Orioles back on top in the series.
The Orioles send Palmer back to the mound with three days’ rest and are surprised to learn the Astros aren’t doing the same with Keuchel. They’re told that teams just don’t do that anymore in 2017 except in an emergency. The Orioles — who started pitchers on three or fewer days’ rest nearly 90 times in 1970 — have a good chuckle at that.
The story of this game, as it has been for much of the series, is defense. The Astros put on a clinic, especially Springer in center field and Bregman at third base, taking base hits away from the Orioles with several defensive gems.
But as far as wizardry with the leather goes, the Astros don’t hold a candle to their opponents. Third baseman Brooks Robinson wows the world with a slew of athletic, game-saving plays down the line. Shortstop Mark Belanger helps start a pair of nifty double plays. And Blair, in center, tracks down every fly ball in the state of Texas to snuff potential Astros rallies.
The excellent glovework keeps it a close game into the late innings. Palmer isn’t as effective as in Game 1, while the Orioles send Astros’ starter Charlie Morton to an early exit behind home runs from Powell and Don Buford. It becomes a battle of the bullpens, where usual starter Tom Phoebus — moved to the bullpen for the playoffs — keeps the Astros in check. The Orioles rally in extra innings on a Brooks Robinson RBI single against Chris Devenski. The O’s win, 6-5, putting them one victory away from a championship.
The sellout crowd of 43,300 in Houston finally gets to witness a hometown victory. Keuchel rolls through the Orioles in his second start of the series, while the Astros rough up Cuellar — a former Astro — with six runs. Cuellar went 24-8 during the regular season in 1970 but isn’t able to beat the 2017 Astros in this series. Houston cruises to a 9-3 win.
In the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid, the Orioles notice a sign displaying the Wi-Fi password and ask what “Wi-Fi” means. They spend the next several hours learning what the Internet is, and then wondering why, with this amazing compilation of all human knowledge freely available at their fingertips, people spend most of their time online watching videos of cats or arguing about fantasy football.
Back in Baltimore, a rowdy crowd of more than 45,000 packs the stands at Memorial in anticipation of the clincher. McNally and Verlander are locked in a tough pitcher’s duel, trading zeroes for the first five innings before the Astros plate the game’s first run on a Marwin Gonzalez homer.
Verlander leaves the game in the seventh with the Astros clinging to a one-run lead. But the 1970 Orioles aren’t going to be denied. They tie the game against Brad Peacock in the ninth when Elrod Hendricks doubles and scores on a Johnson single.
In the bottom of the 10th, the Orioles send the fans home happy. With a runner at second and two outs, Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch — not having a lefty reliever he trusts — intentionally walks Powell to bring up Frank Robinson against the right-handed Devenski.
The strategy backfires. Robinson smashes a first-pitch liner into the gap to plate the winning run. And that hit, along with three Series homers against the Astros, earns Frank Robinson the Ultimate World Series MVP Award.
The Orioles mob each other at home plate, celebrating their series win, while hundreds of fans in tight-fitting pants and platform shoes pour onto the field to join the festivities. The Astros trudge back to the dugout, ready to hitch a ride back through the wormhole into their own time period.
There you have it.
In the battle of 100-win World Series behemoths, the 1970 Orioles rule supreme.