Pena provided a great moment in County Stadium history
What made a place like County Stadium special? It was not just the World Series games or the playoff games that made the old shed so lovable. It was the many moments fans shared with a team. The ups and the downs, the good games and the bad.
Like the time, in 1970, when Roberto Pena hit the only inside-the-park grand slam in County Stadium history.
Born April 17, 1937 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 5-foot 8-inch, 170-pound infielder Roberto Cesar Zapata y Pena began his major league career with the Chicago Cubs in 1965, hitting a whopping .218 in 170 at bats. His 17 errors as a shortstop suggested his future in the big leagues would be limited.
Although he improved to .260 at the plate for the Phillies in '68, his facility in the field worsened as he bungled 32 balls in 132 games. Pena was taken by the new San Diego Padres in the 1969 expansion draft and he spent a single season there before starting the season with Oakland in 1970.
But by May, Pena was the Brewers' starting second baseman and the team wasn't doing much better than he was. As a matter of fact, when the Detroit Tigers edged the Brew Crew, 5-4, on Friday, May 29, 1970, it was Milwaukee's seventh straight loss and solidified their position at the bottom of the AL West, 16.5 games behind first-place Minnesota and three games behind their nearest rival, the fifth-place White Sox.
A sole ray of light came in the form of third baseman Tommy Harper's 13-game hitting streak.
The second game of series was slated for 8 p.m. on a damp Saturday. As temperatures hovered in the mid '70s, the Brewers took the field in front of 11,704 fans.
The Tigers immediately went ahead, 2-0, in the first and Milwaukee scored once in the bottom of the inning on a pair of walks and a Ted Savage single.
The Tigers' starter Les Cain loaded the bases but fanned Danny Walton and first baseman Jerry McNertney. But then our man Pena stepped to the plate and lined the ball 382 feet to right center field.
Tigers outfielders Al Kaline and Jim Northrup collided while both attempting to make the routine catch. The ball tipped off Northrup's glove and rolled to the wall as Pena made his way around the bases to put the Brewers on top, 5-2.
But Kaline was supine on the grass. Brewers bullpen coach Jackie Moore – a friend and former teammate of Kaline's – was the first to reach Kaline and told one of the daily papers, "I could hear him gasping for air and he was choking and turning blue.
"I realized he had swallowed his tongue and tried to pry his jaws open. But the best I could do was just get two fingers between his teeth."
In the meantime, Detroit left fielder Willie Horton arrived and forced open Kaline's mouth and Brewers' trainer Curt Rayer, according to Moore, "pulled Al's tongue from down his throat."
Kaline was conscious when he was taken off the field and brought to Lutheran Hospital where he was deemed OK, but spent the night.
Meanwhile, the Brew Crew was far from out of danger. Detroit rallied to a tie in the fourth inning as rain began to fall. The drizzle got heavier in the fifth as the Tigers went ahead, 6-5.
The Brewers notched even in the sixth but fell behind once again in the seventh and Brewers manager Dave Bristol yanked starter Lew Krausse.
In the bottom of the eighth, Ted Kubiak walked and moved to second on a sacrifice. Danny Walton's double scored Kubiak to tie. Tigers reliever Fred Scherman appeared to be out of the inning until McNertney's routine ground ball dribbled through the legs of second baseman Dick McAuliffe and Walton scored the game-winner.
Pena walked and first baseman Mike Hegan – who replaced McNertney – drove him in with a single for a 9-7 victory.
The Brewers snapped their losing streak, but Harper failed to connect, ending his hitting string.
Milwaukee took two of three from the Tigers with a ninth-inning rally to win, 7-6, on Sunday. Kaline was suited up but didn't see any action in the game and went on to become one of the game's best players. He was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1980 (joining, among others, Honus Wagner, who hit no fewer than five inside the park grand slams).
Roberto Pena ended his major league career in 1971 and he died on July 23, 1982 in Santiago, Dominican Republic. In 1980, Ben Oglivie hit an inside-the-park grand slam for the Brewers ... at Oakland.
The most recent of MLB's 226 inside the park salamis came off the bat of Philadelphia Phillies' right fielder Aaron Altherr on Sept. 25, 2015.
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