On September 26, 1971, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer wins his 20th game of the year, becoming the fourth Orioles pitcher to win 20 games in the 1971 season. This made the 1971 Orioles pitching staff the first since that of the 1920 Chicago White Sox to field four 20-game winners.
The Orioles began the 1971 season as the two-time defending American League champions and the defending World Series champions. The team was led by two Robinsons: outfielder Frank, a two-time MVP and the 1966 winner of the “triple crown” (leading the American League in home runs, runs batted in and batting average), and Brooks, an excellent hitter and one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball history. The team’s impressive defense featured four eventual 1971 Gold Glove winners–shortstop Mark Belanger, second baseman Davey Johnson, center fielder Paul Blair and Brooks Robinson—as well as three pitching aces: Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar. To many in baseball, the team, with legendary manager Earl Weaver at the helm, was considered nothing short of unbeatable.
As it turned out, the team was even better than expected thanks to the stellar play of its fourth starting pitcher, the previously unremarkable Pat Dobson. Dobson played so well that he reached the 20-game plateau before Jim Palmer, the most celebrated of the team’s aces and a future Hall of Famer. By the time Palmer took the mound on September 26 against the Cleveland Guardians (then known as the Cleveland Indians), the Orioles had already clinched the American League East and were readying themselves for a playoff showdown with the Oakland Athletics. Palmer dismantled the Cleveland offense with his typical pinpoint precision and control, giving up only three hits on the way to a 5-0 Oriole victory, for his 20th win of the season.
Palmer ended 1971 with 20-10 record and a 2.71 earned run average, while McNally went 21-5 with a 2.89, Cuellar went 20-9 with a 3.08 and Dobson finished 20-8 with a 2.90. After beating the A’s in the playoffs, the Orioles lost a heartbreaking seven-game World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates, led by superstar Roberto Clemente.