1971 Game 1: Philadelphia Phillies 2 Pittsburgh Pirates 4.
I was ten years old and excited for the baseball season to begin. Of course I thought my Pirates who had won the NL East in 1970- would put it all together and win the World Series in 1971. Back then I was always the optimist when it came to the Pirates- who as it turned out would have the greatest decade in franchise history. The Pirates would win six National League Eastern Division titles and 2 World Series- 1971 and 1979 in that decade. To be honest until my early 20’s- I never gave it much thought. The Pirates had always had a good team since I started following baseball why wouldn’t that continue forever? Wasn’t it a birthright? Little did I know what would come in the past 40 years- but I am glad that the Pirates and the Steelers were great- during the period when I was growing up.
The Pirates opened the 1971 season at home- Three Rivers Stadium. They had moved into the new stadium midway through the 1970 season so this was the first Opening Day at the stadium. They Pirates would face their cross state rivals the Philadelphia Phillies who finished 5th place in 1970. At this point in time there wasn’t much of a rivalry the Pirates were good- the Phillies were pretty bad. Little would I have thought in 1971 the great rivalry the Pirates and Phillies would have in the second half of the 1970’s. In the decade the Pirates would win 6 division titles- the Phillies 3- only the 1973 Mets broke that dominance.
Opening Day I would be lying if I told you I remembered anything about this game but it started on a Tuesday afternoon 1:35pm. I was in the 4th grade. No doubt I took my transistor radio to school so I could turn the game on as soon as school was out at the end of the day for my walk home.
The game began at 1:35pm- before an attendance of 39,712 at Three Rivers Stadium- the capacity at the time was 50, 235- while the Pirates had outstanding teams in the 1970’s they didn’t draw as well as they should have. The newness of the new stadium had already worn off. I went to games during its entire history and it wasn’t a good place for baseball. A cookie cutter stadium- which by the end in 2000 was a dump. During the 1970-2000 period I would hear many say ” I miss old Forbes Field’- in the 21 years since they’ve been at PNC Park I haven’t heard anyone say “I miss Three Rivers Stadium.’
The pitching match-up was Chris Short for the Phillies and Dock Ellis for the Pirates. [pictured above]- The Pirates got off to a quick start scoring 2 runs in the second when Jackie Hernandez a new acquisition from Kansas City singled in Bob Robertson and then Dock Ellis’s sacrifice bunt scored Willie Stargell.
The Phillies scored in the 5th with Tim McCarver singling in Roger Freed. The Pirates answered with a run in the bottom of the 5th when Richie Hebner singled in Hernandez. The Pirates added to their lead in the bottom of the 8th- future Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski’s sacrifice fly to center scoring Al Oliver. 4-1 Pirates. In the top of the 9th the Phillies scored a run when Larry Bowa singled to center scoring Tim McCarver. Dock Ellis closed the game out when Don Money’s pop foul was caught by Al Oliver near first base. The Pirates win the opener 4-2. My star of the game- starting pitcher- Dock Ellis-
Dock Ellis went the entire 9 innings for the Pirates- giving up 2 runs on 8 hits- striking out 8 and walking 2. Ellis would get off to a great start in 1971- and would have his finest season in his career- making the All-Star Game for the only time in his career- in fact he would be the starting pitcher in July in the All-Star Game at Tigers Stadium in Detroit. More on that later..
The hitting star for the Pirates- making his Pirates debut light-hitting shortstop Jackie Hernandez who went 2-3 with a walk- and a run scored and an RBI.
A couple oddities in the box score- leading off in the Pirates order was Bill Mazeroski- the aging second baseman. Maz was not a classic lead off man- he didn’t walk much. He was usually found near the bottom of the order when he was in the line-up. The other thing that sticks out- Pirates slugger Willie Stargell who usually hit 4th in the line-up- was batting 6th. Facing the lefty Chris Short- Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh had decided to drop him in the line-up. There were three future Hall of Fame players in the Pirates line up- Mazeroski, Stargell and Roberto Clemente.
The game was played in a quick 2 hours 21 minutes which was normal back then. There would be no game on Wednesday- the 2nd game of the two game series against the Phillies -Thursday night at Three Rivers Stadium.