Back when my son was still pre-kindergarten we began a tradition. We had these magnets for all the teams in MLB and when the postseason started, we’d place the magnets for all the teams in the playoffs on the fridge then move the winner one spot over to show who was leading. When a team won its series we’d remove the loser and replace the winner at the edge of the fridge. We’d keep doing this until there were 2 teams left, then we’d do the same thing until a World Series winner was crowned. Then we’d retire the magnets until next season. My son is long gone from home now, but in his honor I still keep up the tradition. I haven’t updated the magnets, so when Washington won its division I was at a loss for a magnet. So I used the Expos magnet to represent Washington (after all they had once been in Montreal). It marks the first time I’ve used the Expos magnet, because the only time Montreal made the playoffs was before my son was born and before this tradition began.
The 1981 season is probably mostly remembered for the strike that wiped out a good deal of the middle of the season. But it’s also the only time Montreal played postseason games. When the strike ended, MLB leadership decided to play a “split season”. The idea was that the teams that were in first when the strike occurred (the Phillies and Dodgers in the National League) would be declared first half winners and the teams that did best after the strike would be declared second half winners. The Astros and Expos won the second half in the NL (while St. Louis had the best overall record in the NL East and Cincinnati the best record in the NL West, both missed the playoffs). Then the two division winners would face each other with the two champions fighting it out for the pennant.
It was the only Expos team to win a division title. Here’s a quick look at the starters. Warren Cromartie, Rodney Scott, Chris Speier, and Larry Parrish held down the infield first around to third. The outfield had Tim Raines, Hall of Famer Andre Dawson (before he got lost in the Wrigley Field ivy), and Tim Wallach from left to right. Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter backstopped, and Steve Rogers, Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson, and Ray Burris all started 20 or more games. The closer was Jeff Reardon (although Woddy Fryman had more saves). Terry Francona (yes, that Terry Francona) was a rookie and the fourth outfielder. Dawson finished second in home runs (and led the league in being hit by a pitch with 7) and Raines won the stolen base crown.
They took on Philadelphia in a best of five first round. After winning two in Montreal, they dropped the next two in Philly. In game five (also in Philly), Rogers outdueled Steve Carlton and Montreal won its first ever playoff series. Gary Carter was the hitting star with two home runs and a .431 average. On the other side of the bracket, Los Angeles beat Houston and the NLCS (a best of five that year) was set.
The first two games were at Dodger Stadium. LA won game one, but Montreal came back to earn a split. With the final three games in Montreal, the series became a best of three. Montreal won game three and LA took game four, making it one game for the pennant. It turned out to be a classic.
The Dodgers sent young phenom Fernando Valenzuela (remember him?) to the mound against Ray Burris. The Expos picked up a run in the first on a Raines double, a Scott sacrifie bunt, then a Dawson ground out plated Raines. The score held until the top of the fifth when Rick Monday led off with a single, went to third on another single, and, like Raines, came home on a ground out. That tied the game and ended the scoring through eight innings. Valenzuela was terrific. He gave up three hits, one walk, one earned run, and had six strikeouts through eight. Burris was equally good, giving up five hits, one walk, one earned run, and striking out one through eight. But in the bottom of the eighth, the Expos pinch hit for Burris. That brought ace Rogers in to pitch the ninth. He got the first two men out, which brought up Monday, the man who’d scored the only Dodgers run. On a 3-1 count, Monday launched a home run into the right field stands, putting LA ahead with three outs to go (It’s still known as the “Blue Monday” homer in Montreal.). Valenzuela got two of them, then walked consecutive batters. In came Bob Welch. He induced a second to first ground out to end the game, send the Dodgers to the World Series (which they won), and ending Montreal’s run.
They never got back to the playoffs. In 1994 they were in first place when the strike wiped out the rest of the season, including the World Series. So they finished first that year, but there was no postseason. In 2005, they moved to Washington and made the playoffs this season for the second time in franchise history. So whatever happens over the next three games, the Expos franchise has finally won for a second time.
Tags: Andre Dawson, Bill Gullickson, Bob Welch, Chris Speier, Fernando Valenzuela, Gary Carter, Jeff Reardon, Larry Parrish, Ray Burris, Rick Monday, Rodney Scott, Scott Sanderson, Steve Rogers, Terry Francona, Tim Raines, Tim Wallach, Warren Cromartie, Woody Fryman