In 1965, the best pitcher to ever wear a Baltimore Orioles uniform made his debut.
He threw his first MLB pitches at age 19, and only spent two seasons in the minor leagues. One in 1964 and a second in 1968. According to Mark Armour with SABR, Palmer almost gave up pitching that year after experiencing pain in his right shoulder and being placed on waivers.
Fortunately for Palmer and the O’s, no one selected him off of waivers in 1968. Another fortunate move in 1968 kept Palmer in the mind of the O’s: the hiring of Earl Weaver. The legendary manager believed in Palmer and gave him a start in 1969.
The rest is history.
Let’s look back at Palmer’s first win and Big League home run:
Like most young pitchers, Palmer was not originally a starter. Although in his appearance before earning his first win, he started his first game on May 9, 1965 in the second game of a double-header at Memorial Stadium. That day, he pitched seven innings and gave up four runs to the Tigers before three more pitchers came in for the 12-inning game. The O’s won with a walk-off single by Norm Siebern that scored Frank Robinson.
In Palmer’s first start, he had to face the Tigers Denny McLain, who would go on to win an MVP in 1968 and a pair of Cy Young Awards in 1968-69. That night, Palmer had similar performance to the 21-year-old McLain who was already a rotational starter in Detroit. They each gave up four runs and four hits. Each pitcher had six strike outs. McLain walked three batters and gave up a home run. Palmer gave up two home runs to Al Kaline and Willie Horton and did not walk anyone. Dick Hall got the win that night.
Palmer’s first win came on May 16, 1965. In the afternoon game against the Yankees at Memorial Stadium, Palmer entered in the top of the third after Dave McNally walked two then gave up three consecutive singles. When Palmer entered, the Yankees had one out and Mickey Mantle on first. He pitched to Hector Lopez, who grounded into a double play to end the inning. By the time the inning was over, the Yankees were up 4-1.
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Palmer went on to pitch in the fourth, fifth, and sixth, giving the Orioles what they needed to get ahead of the Yankees. In the bottom of the third, Siebern hit a home run to bring the O’s within two. And, proving that pitchers can rake, Palmer hit his own two-run home run in the fourth that scored Davey Johnson, who got to first on a throwing error.
In the fifth, Palmer gave up another run to the Yankees, forcing the score to 5-4. But, in the bottom of the fifth, Luis Aparicio helped out the young pitcher with a two-run bomb that put the O’s ahead. And, they never looked back.
In Palmer’s 19-year career with the O’s, he hit three home runs. Of course, with the institution of the DH in 1973, Palmer’s opportunities to help himself offensively dwindled. That home run on May 16 was his third hit burgeoning career. He hit home run deep right field, well beyond the 309-ft fence.
Palmer earned his first win with good pitching and a timely home run. Games like these cemented Palmer in the history books. It’s tough to imagine any pitcher doing what he did on that fateful day in 1965.