Posts Tagged ‘Scott Sanderson’

Blue Monday

October 10, 2012

The “Blue Monday” Home Run

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.

A Bad Century: Revival

May 15, 2012

Bob Dernier

After losing the 1945 World Series the Chicago Cubs went into a prolonged slump, a wander in the wilderness. It lasted 39 years (one less than Moses). For all that time, the Cubs were a team that produced really good players like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams, but continuously failed to advance to any kind of postseason. They were in contention a couple of times, most notably 1969, but failed, as usual, to pull off a victory. That finally changed in 1984.

The Cubs of 1984 were sometimes called the “Phillies West” because of a  major trade with Philadelphia that gave them just over half their starting lineup. They picked up all three outfielders from Philadelphia: Bob Dernier, Gary Mathews, and Keith Moreland (both Mathews and Moreland were part of the 1980 World Championship team) as well as the middle infield combination of shortstop Larry Bowa and second baseman and MVP Ryne Sandberg. Third baseman Ron Cey had also arrived from another team, this time the Dodgers, as did former Cardinal Leon Durham who held down first base. Only catcher Jody Davis had spent his entire big league career in Chicago. The pitching staff was put together the same way. Rick Sutcliffe came over early in the year from Cleveland (much the same way Hank Borowy had done in 1945, except Borowy came from New York) and won the National League Cy Young Award that season. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, still a starter, was out of Boston, and Steve Trout had been across town with the White Sox. Warren Brusstar was part of the Phillies contingent and Scott Sanderson had been at Montreal. Even reliever Lee Smith was from St. Louis. But manager Jim Frey (also someone who’d come from another team, Kansas City) wielded all the trades and free agents and pick ups together so that they worked. The Cubs won 96 games, the NL East title and a had a date with the San Diego Padres for the NL crown. Even the first two games were in Wrigley Field. Things were so giddy that there was talk of activating Ernie Banks at the end of the season so he could sit in the dugout during the playoffs (they didn’t activate him, but he was allowed to sit in the dugout).

After two games it looked like the drought might be over. Chicago took game one 13-0 with Sutcliffe both pitching and contributing with one of five Cubs home runs. Game two ended 4-2 for Chicago, but the Cubs were in control from the beginning. All they had to do now was win one game in San Diego and the thirty-nine year World Series-less run would be over.

They lost game three 7-1, a game they’d led 1-0. Well, they still had two more chances. Then they made a major mistake; they decided to pitch to Steve Garvey. In a pivotal game four Garvey went 4 for 5 with five RBIs and a walk off home run as the Padres won 7-5. Which meant it all came down to game five.

Chicago got off to a three run lead when Durham popped a two-run home run in the first and Davis hit a solo shot in the second. San Diego got two of them back in the sixth on two singles, a walk to Garvey, and consecutive sacrifice flies. Then came the bottom of the seventh (the same inning as the later infamous “Bartman” game). With one out, Durham committed an error that tied up the game and from that point the pitching staff simply melted down (same as with the “Bartman” game). A single, a double, and an RBI hit by Garvey plated a total of four runs. The Cubs got two men on in the eighth and one in the ninth, but failed to score any of them. San Diego won 6-3 to secure a date with Detroit in the World Series, where the Tigers proceeded to dismantle them four games to one.

For Chicago it was a disappointment, but it was a critical turn around. After 39 years in the wilderness the Cubs had gotten to postseason. It’s now become a sporadic habit. After 39 non-playoff seasons, the Cubs have made the postseason with some frequency in the last 25 years. With the advent of a two-tier playoff system, they’ve even won a playoff series. It’s true they’ve never been back to the World Series and the Bad Century continues, but they’ve managed to move out of perpetual doldrums into occasional postseason play. For Chicago that’s a celebratory step up. And it’s the closest there is to a happy note on which to end this series.