In 1965, the Baltimore Orioles went a heady 94-68 … but finished in third place in the American League.

In 1966, the Orioles finished 97-63 and won the American League pennant … and then swept the World Series in four games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So, what was the difference between those two O’s teams?

“Seven victories,” I can hear the wise guys amongst the peanut gallery shouting.

And that’s right, of course, but how did the Orioles get from there to there — from third place to *so* far ahead of their competition that they didn’t even need to play their final two games of the 1966 season (un-made-up rainouts)?

Well, for starters, both the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins came back down to earth pretty hard after amazing runs in 1965.

And for another, Baltimore added a future Hall of Famer in the offseason, trading Jack Baldschun, Milt Pappas, and Dick Simpson to the Cincinnati Reds for Frank Robinson.

All Robinson did was go out and win the Triple Crown, posting 7.7 WAR (Baseball-Reference version), dwarfing the 4.5 Brooks Robinson had put up as the Orioles’ top hitter in 1965 (who also bested his own mark, season-over-season).

And those two bits accounted for most of the difference — the O’s improved thanks to the Robinson, while the pack around them got a lot worse.

You know what didn’t change much from 1965 to 1966 in Baltimore, though?

That would be the rotation.

In 1965, the top six guys went 60-44 with a 2.95 ERA.

In 1966, they came in at 61-42 with a 3.55 ERA.

So, kinda worse, but with good bottom-line results.

(Eddie Fisher also gets some credit, coming over from the ChiSox during the season to help shore up an already pretty good bullpen.)

But, while the Baltimore rotation may not have made a big leap forward in 1966, they also totally did.

Because that summer, a young pitcher stepped into the fray to take the regular turns freed up when Pappas (and Robin Roberts) left town.

Yes, after spending his rookie season as a swingman in 1965, Jim Palmer embarked on his tenure as a fulltime starter in 1966, and he acquitted himself quite well — 15-10, 3.46 ERA at age 20.

And, thanks to his 27-game run the year before, Palmer was already popping out of wax packs across the land as he worked to solidify his spot in the rotation:

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Over the next couple of decades, that 1966 Topps Jim Palmer rookie card would become one of the most sought-after pasteboards in the hobby as he marched toward the Hall of Fame on the backs of three Cy Young Awards and Jockey underwear.

Before all that could unfold, though, Palmer and his teammates had business to take care of.

In Game 2 of the World Series, the second-year righty out Arizona State and Towson faced off against Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax.

And, while Koufax pitched well over six innings, his one earned run allowed was dwarfed by the three unearned that came home thanks to fielding gaffes behind him.

The lefthander’s efforts were also dwarfed by Palmer’s own showing — a four-hit, three-walk, six-strikeout, zero-run affair that made Cakes the youngest man to ever throw a shutout in the Fall Classic.

And all the while, collectors across the land were following along with their Palmer rookie cards laid out in front of them.

Today, that RC is still a hobby favorite, one that brings about $300 in PSA 7 condition, more than $800 in PSA 8, and pushing four grand in graded MINT condition (PSA 9).

But for all the history embodied in that hunk of cardboard through the achievements of the only man to win World Series games in three decades (Palmer), that 1966 Topps card takes on even more significance when you realize just what happened in Game 2.

Yes, the O’s won 6-0 in that day game at Dodger Stadium en route to three straight shutouts to cap the Series sweep.

And, yes, Palmer sent notice that he would be an ace to reckon with for years to come.

But, when Koufax came off the mound after six, yielding to Ron Perranoski to start the seventh inning, he would never return.

And thus, even if no one knew it at the time, the 1966 Topps Jim Palmer rookie card became an eternal, tangible signpost pointing visitors toward “The Changing of the Guard” over the course of about two hours on October 6, 1966.