The Baltimore Orioles have presided over the American League East Division all season long so it comes as no surprise that the Orioles were the first club to clinch their division championship with a 3-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians. The celebration was delayed for two days as the Red Sox denied the Birds with a pair of victories at Memorial Stadium. But when Frank Robinson’s 37th home run flew into the left field bleachers for an early three run lead, the 9,484 in attendance knew tonight would be the night. The pitcher to lead the Birds to the promised land wasn’t one of the aces, Cuellar, McNally or Palmer, but rather 26-year-old Jim Hardin (5-9) who held the Tribe to only four hits. It was Hardin’s fifth victory of the season and his third shutout.
The Indians could not solve Hardin after an uprising in the fourth inning was thwarted by a nifty double play turned by first baseman Boog Powell, shortstop Mark Belanger, and Hardin. When Don Buford squeezed Duke Sims’ fly ball for the game’s final out, Hardin was congratulated by his teammates and manager Earl Weaver. In the clubhouse, Weaver set the tone for the club. “Congratulations,” he wrote on the clubhouse blackboard. “One-half way home. Champagne tonight.”
It was anti-climatic. The players went through the champagne ritual, drinking two percent of the stuff and pouring the rest on each other, and they dragged Owner Jerry Hoffberger into the shower. But it was an occasion the Orioles had known was coming for weeks. “It’s nice to have the race over with,” Brooks Robinson said calmly. “But we haven’t really won anything yet.”
With only seven home dates remaining, the Orioles remain under the one million mark for attendance. As such, they might be the first post-World War II American League pennant winner to have a home attendance less than a million. The 1944 St. Louis Browns, the Orioles’ predecessor, drew only 508,644 in their pennant winning season. Oriole attendance is well ahead of last season’s pace, but far behind the pace of Baltimore’s last pennant season, 1966, when the club drew 1,203,366.