1969 World Series: The Mets Stun The Orioles

The 1969 World Series between the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets was a bit ironic. Just nine months earlier, these same two cities had met in Super Bowl III, when the then-Baltimore Colts met Joe Namath’s Jets. In that Super Bowl, the heavily favored team from Baltimore was upset by New York. Now, in October, the same thing happened—the Mets upended the 109-win Orioles to win the Fall Classic.

You can read more about each team’s regular season journey and their LCS triumphs at the links below. This article will focus exclusively on the games of the 1969 World Series.



The ’69 World Series opened on October 11, a Saturday afternoon, in Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium. Both teams had the Cy Young Award winners at the top of their rotations, and with each coming off LCS sweeps, the Orioles’ Mike Cuellar,  and the Mets’ Tom Seaver were ready to roll for Game 1.

Don Buford led off the home half of the first and greeted Seaver with a solo home run. The favored Birds had a quick 1-0 lead. In the bottom of the fourth, Baltimore’s offense stirred again, this time with two outs. Elrod Hendricks singled. Davey Johnson drew a walk. Mark Belanger and Cueller each singled, and it was 3-0. Buford ripped a double. Baltimore had a 4-0 lead.

Cuellar didn’t run into any trouble until the top of the seventh. Donn Clendenon lead off with a single, and then Ron Swoboda worked a walk. With one out, Jerry Grote singled to load up the bases and bring the tying run to the plate. Al Weis’ sac fly put the Mets on the board, but Cuellar still got out of the jam with a 4-1 lead.

New York made one more rally in the ninth, getting two men aboard with two outs. Art Shamsky could tie the game with one swing. But Cuellar induced a ground ball to second base and the Orioles had Game 1.

Dave McNally took the ball for Baltimore in Sunday’s Game 2, matched up with New York’s Jerry Koosman. Both pitchers cruised through the first three innings. In the top of the fourth, Clendenon homered and the Mets had their first lead of the Series, 1-0.

Koosman took a no-hitter into the seventh, but McNally had kept pace after the solo blast and it was still 1-zip. Paul Blair’s leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh ended the no-hit bid. With two outs, Blair stole second. And when Brooks Robinson knocked an RBI single back through the box, the game was tied 1-1.

The 1-1 tie held until the ninth. With two outs and nothing happening, the New York bats came alive. Ed Charles, Grote, and Weis hit consecutive singles to get a 2-1 lead. The same thing almost happened for Baltimore in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, Koosman walked two straight batters. He was removed for Ron Taylor. The reliever got Brooks Robinson on a ground ball to second.

It was a good sports Sunday for the fans of New York’s “second” teams. The Mets were even up in the World Series and the Jets had knocked off the Cincinnati Bengals. The city of Baltimore licked their wounds over the baseball loss, and waited until Monday for some football redemption. The Colts’ home game had to be pushed back to accommodate the World Series. So, while the baseball teams took a day off, Baltimore watched the Colts beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

Night baseball in the World Series was still a couple years away, so the Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday games at Shea Stadium were all afternoon affairs. Game 3 matched up the Orioles’ Jim Palmer against the Mets’ Gary Gentry.

New York’s first home game started the same way Baltimore’s had—the leadoff hitter for the home team hit a first-inning home run. This time, it was Tommie Agee giving the Mets a 1-0 lead.

In the bottom of the second, the Mets again started a rally with two outs. Grote walked and Bud Harrelson singled. Gentry helped himself with the bat, doubling to right-center and putting New York up 3-zip.

Baltimore got their first hit in the top of the fourth, and put two runners on with two outs. Hendricks came to the plate. He crushed a ball to deep left center that looked certain to clear the bases. Agee ran it down with a great backhanded catch. The 3-0 lead was preserved. The Mets later added a run in the sixth when Ken Boswell legged out an infield hit, and then scored on a double by Grote.

In the seventh, with two outs, Gentry lost it. He walked three straight batters. Nolan Ryan came out of the bullpen. Blair was at the plate. He hit the ball hard, a line drive into right center. Enter Agee. The Met centerfielder continued the game of his life with a diving catch. The shutout was preserved.

Ed Kranepool added one more run for the Mets with a solo homer in the eighth. Extending the lead to 5-0 proved significant when the Orioles were able to load the bases with two outs. Blair again had a chance to do some damage. This time, Ryan struck him out. New York had the Series lead, 2-1.

In an era when pitchers routinely worked on three days rest, Cuellar and Seaver were back on the mound for Game 4. They would also likely be in line to pitch Game 7, if the Series got that far. Both were brilliant on this afternoon.

Clendenon got Seaver a lead with a solo home run in the bottom of the second. In the third inning, both pitchers maneuvered around trouble. Baltimore had runners on the corners with one out, but a Blair bunt didn’t work in picking up the run. New York had two on with one out before Cuellar ended the rally.

Neither pitcher could be touched until the ninth inning, and the score was still 1-0. The Orioles came to the plate in a desperate spot.

With one out, Frank Robinson and Boog Powell singled. Brooks Robinson came to the plate. He hit a sinking line drive to right. The Mets’ Ron Swoboda got in on the defensive heroics with a diving catch. Frank Robinson was able to tag up and tie the game, but Swoboda’s gem ensured the game would stay tied 1-1.

Baltimore’s ace closer, Eddie Watt, got into a little trouble in the bottom of the ninth, with men on first and third and two outs. He struck out Shamsky. Extra innings were at hand.

Shamsky had pinch-hit for Charles, the regular third baseman, who was then replaced by Wayne Garrett. The move threatened to blow up on the Mets. After not getting the hit they needed in the ninth, a Garrett error opened the top of the 10th. Baltimore would put two on with one out. But neither Blair nor Buford could get the key hit.

In the bottom of the 10th, Grote blooped a double giving New York an immediate threat. After an intentional walk, another top Oriole reliever, Pete Richert, came into the game. J.C. Martin, batting for Seaver put a bunt down. Richert threw the ball away. Grote raced in with the winning run. New York had Game 4 by a 2-1 count. And they now, improbably, had this Fall Classic by a 3-1 count.

Koosman and McNally rematched in Game 5. Baltimore’s back was to the wall, but just one win could turn some momentum, and they could get back home. And after a quiet first two innings both ways, the Orioles made noise in the top of the third.

Belanger led off with a single. McNally delivered the goods with his bat—a two-run homer that gave Baltimore their first lead since Game 1. With two outs, Frank Robinson homered. It was 3-0.

McNally rolled through the first five innings. In the bottom of the sixth, controversy erupted. McNally’s pitch to leadoff hitter Cleon Jones hit the dirt and went into the New York dugout. The Mets alleged that the ball hit Jones in the foot and showed the home plate umpire some shoe polish on the ball. It was enough to get Cleon awarded first base.

 The legitimacy of the shoe polish remains a subject of historical  intrigue, because it proved consequential. Clendenon followed it with another home run. In the bottom of the seventh, Weis hit a solo homer. It was 3-3, Baltimore had mustered just one hit since the third inning, and the momentum was all in New York’s direction.

Watt was on in relief in the eighth. Cleon Jones again got things going and this time there were no arguments—it was a clean leadoff double. Clendenon grounded out, but Swoboda delivered a big two-bagger of his own. It was 4-3 and the Mets were three defensive outs from a championship. But some insurance doesn’t hurt. With two outs, a ground ball to first base was misplayed by Boog Powell, then saw Powell’s eventual threw to first dropped by Watt. Swoboda came all the way around on the double error.

At 5-3, Frank Robinson got a leadoff walk in the top of the ninth. The heavy hitters of the Baltimore lineup had a chance to tie it up. Koosman got Powell and Brooks Robinson. In what would prove to be a historical irony, it was Davey Johnson—who later managed the Mets’ 1986 World Series champs—that was the last man at bat. He flew out to left and the party was on at old Shea Stadium.

Clendenon’s three home runs—still tied for the most in a five-game Series—made him an easy choice as the 1969 World Series MVP. But he wasn’t alone. Swoboda had gone 6-for-15, made a big defensive play and drove in the winning run of Game 5. Weis finished the Series 5-for-11, including the home run that tied up the fifth game.

The bigger story was what New York pitching had done. Baltimore’s feared offense had mustered just 23 hits—less than five per game for the Series—and 19 of those hits were singles. The Orioles batted .146. Koosman, with his two wins, was the pitching star. It’s a testament to Baltimore’s own pitching that, with anemic production like that, three of their four losses were nail-biters

This Series is remembered as a big upset, but it does have to be considered that New York was a 100-win team themselves, the second-best in baseball during the regular season. They had the 1-2 punch of Seaver-Koosman at the top of the rotation. The notion that they could win a best-of-seven Series doesn’t seem like as big a stretch as the conventional historical narrative makes it out.

Baltimore would be back. They nurtured the pain of this defeat and returned to win the World Series in 1970. The Orioles remained a consistent contender into the early 1980s, reaching the Fall Classic three more times and winning it again in 1983.

New York followed a different path. The Mets stepped back from contention for a few years. Then they jumped up and won a wild division race in 1973 and went on to reach Game 7 of the World Series before losing. But they didn’t reach the postseason after that until Davey Johnson was the manager, and the aforementioned ’86 World Series title.