It was a joyous Wednesday evening in Montreal, and everyone pitched in: the old, the new, the tried and the true. Talk about redemption. There was .238-hitting Catcher Gary Carter who, with the Expos trailing the Pirates 2-1, opened the eighth with a double. There was 22-year-old Tim Raines, who gamely ran for Carter despite a plastic cast on his broken right hand. There was much-booed Third Baseman Larry Parrish, who generously hit to the right side and scored Raines with a single. There was 38-year-old Grant Jackson, dumped by the Pirates a few weeks earlier, who pitched two innings of shutout relief. And most of all, there was Jerry White, who once prided himself on being the best "fourth" outfielder in baseball but now was reduced to pinch-hitting.
All White did was smash a home run to win the game in the ninth, give the Expos the National League East lead by a half game over the Cardinals and set off a massive celebration. Teammates hoisted White overhead, kissed him on the cheek, laid down a carpet of towels to his locker and forgot about their postgame meal for a record 15 minutes.
In St. Louis, meanwhile, no one was pitching, much less pitching in. As the Cards lost 9-4 to the Phillies, starter John Martin was rocked for four runs in the third inning, rookie Leftfielder Gene Roof allowed another run to score by double-pumping before throwing home, and Manager Whitey Herzog's vaunted offense didn't begin to click until the game was out of reach. Afterward, the Cardinals were quiet but somehow poised. Also, they were out of the second-season division lead for the first time since Aug. 19.
It was the best of races, it was the worst of races, it was the happiest of races, it was the saddest of races, it was the richest of races, it was the poorest of races. The NL East race became a tale of two cities last week, and whether or not you enjoyed the story depended upon what city you favored. In Montreal last week the Expos won six of seven games and climbed from 1½ out on Monday to 1½ up on Sunday because St. Louis lost four of seven. The boisterous Expos celebrated like French peasants inside the Bastille. The phlegmatic Cardinals accepted their fate as stoically as landlords at the guillotine.
October 4, 1981
If St. Louis is to win a reprieve, it will have to be in the last week of the season, when the Cardinals play the Expos twice at home. Away from Montreal, the Expos haven't fared very well (18-27). The last time the two teams met, St. Louis took three of five in Montreal to open up a 3½-game lead. With only 17 games to go, that advantage seemed secure. But since then Montreal has made effective use of the best pitching staff in the division—a 3.29 ERA—and St. Louis finally may have run out of borrowed time.
Herzog did a masterful job of keeping his tattered and torn pitching staff together for this long, but he admits he knew he was in trouble in early September. "With so many arms hurting, we went right down the chute," he says. "All I'm doing now is shooting craps."
Sometimes that has worked. Last Saturday, for instance, when Bob Forsch pitched with three days' rest for the first time this year and beat Pittsburgh 5-3. But usually not. The night before Herzog had started 42-year-old Jim Kaat for the first time this year—"he's my healthiest pitcher"—but Kaat allowed five runs in 3⅖ innings. Even so, St. Louis trailed by only 5-4 when Herzog took another chance by bringing in relief ace Bruce Sutter for the first time this season with the Cards trailing. "When you see that Montreal has won, it's too close to the end to worry about whether or not to use him," Herzog said.
Recently, everyone has seen Montreal win. After losing those three of five to St. Louis two weeks ago, the Expos held a grim clubhouse meeting before a three-game series with Chicago. Amid an unexpected managerial change—Jim Fanning for Dick Williams on Sept. 8—and an untimely injury—Raines's broken hand on Sept. 13—the Expos appeared to be squandering their considerable talent. Without naming names, Fanning told the Expos what was expected of them and implied that some of them weren't playing to their capabilities. "Everybody had to look at themselves," says Pitcher Steve Rogers. "That's thought-provoking, and that can be action-provoking." The action Montreal took was to win two of three from the Cubs.
The Expos began last week with their most extraordinary game of the year—a 1-0, 17-inning win over the Phillies. The game ended on a bang-bang play, Rodney Scott racing home ahead of Third Baseman Mike Schmidt's throw on a bases-loaded grounder, but there were many heart-stopping moments before that. Gary Carter threw out three base stealers in a row. Leftfielder Terry Francona made a perfect throw home to save a run in the 14th inning, and reliever Jeff Reardon pitched three shutout innings. After two more wins over the Phillies—6-2 on Tuesday and 3-2 on Wednesday—the Expos were in first by half a game. But it was a big half game. Montreal had won four in a row and nine of 13, and had allowed just 29 hits over the last 62 innings. First Baseman Warren Cromartie, the leadoff man in Raines's absence, was hitting .455, with an on-base percentage of .655 over his last six games. For their part, half of the Cardinals' pitching staff was hurting, and precious few hitters were delivering. "We need Garry Templeton, Keith Hernandez and George Hendrick to be hot," said Herzog. Only Templeton was even lukewarm.
So let's pick up the race, or what little seemed to be left of it.
THURSDAY. Bill (Spaceman) Lee, Montreal's resident lefthander, warms up by discoursing at length on Kurt Vonnegut, philosopher Ervin Laszlo and the Russian mathematician and mystic Ouspensky. "I never look beyond the next batter," he says. "It's called centering yourself."
Lee can talk about anything he wants. Though he starts the game with a 3-5 record, he has a 2.57 ERA, a club-leading six saves and just 12 walks in 76⅖ innings. He's also batting .389. In one of his finest clutch performances, Lee fools the Pirates with 88 sinkers, sliders and curves.
But if there's one thing Lee likes as much as pitching, it's hitting. He leads off the fifth by depositing a 3-1 Odell Jones fastball over the 114-meter sign in right. He does it with a smooth, slow swing, and the ball leaves his bat in a gentle arc, like a satellite in the night sky. Spaceman, indeed. The 23,459 fans at Olympic Stadium give him a standing ovation, and an even louder one when he interrupts the game in the seventh inning to chase a butterfly out of the batter's box. "That was Thomas Yawkey [his late owner in Boston] coming back to tell me he appreciates my effort," Lee says. He leaves the game in the eighth with a 6-1 lead, and the Expos go on to win 7-1.
The next morning the French-language tabloid le journal de montrèal carries a picture of Lee on the front page; inside, there's the headline LEE LANCE, FRAPPE ET FAIT RIRE (Lee pitches, bats and makes people laugh). "The French Canadians love him," says one longtime Expo-watcher. "They're free spirits and so is he. They don't speak English and neither does he."
It has been a night for laughter and cheers. Cromartie goes 4 for 5, with two singles, a double and a homer. Carter drives in three runs, and Reardon, the ex-Met who has given the Expos a much-needed bullpen ace, finishes up. But the event that brings down the house is the announcement on the scoreboard of the third-inning score from St. Louis. Paul Shubin, the Expos' producer-director of electronic wizardry, flashes a "I" next to ST. LOUIS and—after a long pause—an "11" next to PHILADELPHIA.
You really don't want to know what happened to the Cardinals. In the top of the third inning the Phillies get eight straight hits (two short of the major league record) and 11 runs (most in the majors this season) and go on to win 14-6. "If hiding's contagious," says Cardinal Second Baseman Tommy Heir, "I guess that was a plague."
FRIDAY. The Expos bask in both celebration and cerebration. For much of the season they've been pushing Andre Dawson for Most Valuable Player, citing his hitting (.305), power (23 homers), speed (26 stolen bases), Gold Glove work in center and oh-so-many intangible contributions. But of late Dawson has been off, and their argument looks weak. In the fourth inning against the Mets, however, Dawson hits a line drive over the second baseman and, without breaking stride, easily beats the throw to second. Parrish doubles him home, and the Expos are off to a 6-3 win. Afterward, awesome Dawson permits himself a rare boast. "Other guys are having good years—Schmidt, Foster—but I'm the people's choice."
But the people's choice at Olympic Stadium tonight is Parrish. When he hit 30 homers in 1979, expectations were high for him. Then, on May 3, 1980, Ed Whitson of the Giants hit Parrish on his left wrist, and he lost much of his power—only 11 homers since then. No one cheers louder than Expo fans, but if the spirit moves them, they would boo Mother Teresa: The riding they have given the slumping Parrish in the wake of his injury is perhaps the worst in the 13-year history of the Montreal franchise. But on this night they reverse themselves when Parrish goes 3 for 4 and drives in four runs. As he stands on first after delivering a two-run single in the seventh, they give him a thunderous, prolonged ovation. Parrish finally tips his hat. The ovation continues, and he tips his hat again. It's as if 41,351 people are exorcising their guilt.
The Cardinals are having another bad night: a 5-4 loss to the visiting Pirates. With Kaat knocked out, Ponce de León gives way to Luis DeLeon, who helps shut out the Pirates the rest of the way, but St. Louis blows its chance for a comeback with some bad base running. After Card Catcher Darrell Porter opens the ninth by striking out, Sixto Lezcano walks and Herzog inserts rookie Dave Green to run for him. With two strikes on Tito Landrum, Herzog sends Green. Landrum swings and misses—and Green is tagged out after his foot comes off the bag. "We stink," says a melancholy Dane Iorg.
The Expos haven't been scoreboard-watching very carefully, but afterward Cromartie hears the Cardinal result on his radio. "The game's over, the game's over," yells the most expressive Expo, "2½, 2½, 2½!"
SATURDAY. "Every game's crucial now," Montreal Shortstop Chris Speier is saying before the game. "In situations like this you don't wait for the big inning. You want to get on the scoreboard first, so you sacrifice, bunt, execute fundamentals."
With the score 1-1 in the second, Francona sees the infield is deep and lays down a perfect bunt. Speier sacrifices him to second and Cromartie singles him home. No wonder somebody has named a candy bar after him. It's a Cro Bar.
Fundamentals and execution—is there anything else to September baseball? In the fifth, Carter alertly calls for a pitchout and nails would-be base-stealer Lee Mazzilli. The Expos extend the lead to 4-1 on sixth-inning singles by Tim Wallach, Francona, Speier and Scott, and execute a key fundamental of the game in the eighth. Woodie Fryman, 41, replaced starter Ray Burris with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and escaped with one run. Now Fryman has men on first and second and one out. Alex Trevi‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±o bunts to the mound. Fryman has an easy play at first, but to Fanning's delight, he throws to second, keeping the tying run out of scoring position and setting up a force. Sure enough, he gets one.
Fanning calls Fryman "cunning and smart," and the rubber-armed lefthander ends the game with a cunning and smart pitch—a slider over the outside corner that catches righthanded Mookie Wilson with the bat on his shoulder. "That's the pitch that kept me in baseball," Fryman says in the clubhouse.
The grandfather figure looks across the room at a player young enough to be his offspring, the 22-year-old Francona. The son of former major-leaguer Tito, Terry joined Montreal on Aug. 19 after two partial seasons in the minor leagues; next year he may take permanent possession of leftfield, moving Raines to second. Someone asks Francona where he gets his savvy. "I've played a lot of baseball," he says. "I played at Arizona and I played for about four U.S. national teams. In fact, I've been around a park as long as I could swing a bat. My father couldn't keep me away. I made him throw to me and shag. I don't think I knew he had a job. The poor guy. When I look back, I kind of feel sorry for him."
Fortunately, the Cardinals have stopped feeling sorry for themselves, beating the Pirates 5-3 behind Forsch as Templeton, Hernandez and Hendrick get key hits in the decisive three-run, seventh-inning rally.
SUNDAY. All good things must come to an end, and for the Expos, it's their seven-game winning streak. While Montreal is losing to the Mets 2-1 before 52,089, the largest crowd of the year, St. Louis is beating the Pirates 7-5. The Cardinals' big hit comes from Herr, who ends a 1-for-21 slump with a bases-loaded triple. Then, for good measure, the second baseman steals home. Sutter finishes up to get his 25th save, but the Cardinals are still a game and a half behind, with time running out.
"I'm proud of these guys," says St. Louis reserve Catcher Gene Tenace. "But maybe it's not in the cards," he adds, intending no pun. "Maybe there's something to the theory that you have to go through the battle once before you can win."
The Expos have waded through it twice. In 1979 and 1980 they stayed in the race until the last weekend. Both times they suffered damaging injuries: Carter broke a finger with six games to go in 1979, and Leftfielder Ron LeFlore broke a thumb early last September. When Raines got hurt in this year's race, Montreal tried to remain calm. In the aftermath, Francona replaced Raines in left and Cromartie at leadoff, and the Expos forged ahead.
The Cardinals haven't been in a race since 1974. Herzog expertly built a contender to suit the artificial turf and endless power alleys of Busch Memorial Stadium, but he hasn't found the cure for injuries and inexperience. "I think we've dropped our heads a little," says Forsch.
Guillotines have a way of doing that to people.