There were some big Omens at the Big O on Sunday. The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies were playing the 1993 Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium, but, like it or not, they were also playing the part of the 1964 Phillies. The starting leftfielder for the '93 Phils is Ruben Amaro Jr., who was fathered by an infielder for the '64 Phils that very season. For the third straight game Phillie manager Jim Fregosi called on reliever David West, whose record was 6-4, and closer Mitch Williams, who has grown to 6'4" since his birth in '64.
Williams was trying to protect a 5-4 lead in the ninth, but a single, a walk and an error loaded the bases with one out. Although Williams got Sean Berry, batting .264, to pop up, he could tempt fate for only so long. The next batter was Wilfredo Cordero, who the night before had accounted for the 1,964th total base against the Phillies this season with a three-run homer off Tommy Greene, whose customs form declared that his birthday was 6/4 (Canadians put the day first and the month second).
O.K., O.K., maybe we're making too much of this '64 thing. But on the field, so were the Phillies. Cordero lined a Williams fastball down the third base line, sending home the tying and winning runs. As the Expos rushed onto the field, so too did the ghosts of '64. Cordero had four or five teammates climb on his back as he rounded first. Williams had Allen, Bunning, Callison and Mauch on his back as he shuffled toward the dugout. Had Williams saved the game, the Phils would have left Montreal with a lead of 6 games in the National League East. Instead, it was down to, yes, 4.
For those of you who might need reminding, the '64 Phillies blew a 6½-game lead with 12 games to play by going into a 10-game tailspin. (They fell out of first place on Sept. 27 when they lost 14-8 to the Milwaukee Braves. One of the hitting stars that day was first baseman Felipe Alou, who is now the manager of the Expos.) Since that season the Phils have finished first in the East five times and won a World Series (1980). But if you think that Philadelphians should have forgotten '64 by now, you don't know Philadelphia.
This season the Phillies have performed above and beyond anybody's expectations. They took over first in the East on April 11, and on Aug. 20 they led the St. Louis Cardinals by nine games and the third-place Expos by 14½. But then Montreal got hot, the lead began to melt, and Johnny Callison's phone rang. As related by Callison, a star outfielder for the '64 Phils, the conversation went something like this:
"Hi, Johnny. Dick Allen here."
"Well, Richie, here we go again."
"Yeah, same old garbage."
Callison, who lives in the Philadelphia suburb of Glenside, says that 25 different people reminded him last week of that ill-fated season. And what did he tell them? "I just tell them, 'Hell, it's a different team. If they lose, it's their fault. It's not the ghost of '64. They're on their own.' "
So the stage was set for the Phillies' three-game weekend series in Montreal. The Philadelphia Daily News heralded the confrontation on Friday by putting Alfred E. Neuman, wearing a Phillie earring, on its front page along with the classic Mad magazine mantra: WHAT, ME WORRY? Inside, the newspaper offered some helpful French phrases for fans traveling to Montreal: Ils sont tombès à plat (they choked) and mil neuf cent soixante-quatre (1964).
The Phils also professed a Neumanesque attitude. It was best expressed by reliever Larry Andersen. "We're still in the driver's seat," said Andersen. "We just lost our map." Besides, the Phillies had the edge on the Expos this season. Their record against Montreal was, you guessed it, 6-4.
The Expos, on the other hand, were worried on Friday. The night before, in St. Louis, in a 4-3 win over the Cardinals that had drawn Montreal to within five games of Philadelphia, Moises Alou, the Expos' leftfielder and their manager's son, had fractured the fibula and dislocated the ankle of his left leg while rounding first. The sight of Alou's foot dangling to the side was so grotesque that players and umpires had turned away in shock.
Yet on Friday afternoon Alou showed up at Olympic Stadium on crutches to assure everyone that he was all right and to thank people for their concern. (He made a point of thanking the Pittsburgh Pirates for the basket of fruit they sent.) He also briefly addressed the team. "I told the guys that I would be there with them, to play hard and kick ass," he said. As Expo infielder Randy Ready put it, "Just seeing Mo was a huge relief. It takes a big man to fly halfway across the country after such a traumatic injury just to lift our spirits."
There were many more spirits to be lifted on Friday night.
The Expos are, ironically, a lot like the '64 Phillies—young and scrappy and playing over their heads. And just as manager Gene Mauch played "little ball" that season, Felipe Alou practices balle petite: He has only one hitter, rightfielder Larry Walker, with more than 20 home runs, but eight Expos have more than 10 stolen bases. Eleven Montreal players are rookies, including five who started the season with Double A Harrisburg and made the jump to the majors.
One of them is Curtis Pride, a 24-year-old outfielder who hit a combined .324 with 50 stolen bases at Harrisburg and Triple A Ottawa. Pride is a remarkable athlete who played soccer for the U.S. under-18 team and point guard on the William & Mary basketball team. He was first signed by the New York Mets in 1986, but the Expos signed him as a minor league free agent before this season, and he blossomed. Oh, yes—Pride is 95% deaf.
So he didn't hear the cheers of the crowd of 45,757 when he stepped to the plate against Bobby Thigpen as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning Friday night, with the Expos trailing 7-4. There were runners on first and second with one out, thanks to a single, a 6-4 force and an infield hit. Why had Felipe called on such an unproven rookie in such a crucial situation? "There was something in the delivery of the pitcher," said Alou, "that made me think Curtis could hit him."
Sure enough, Pride laced Thigpen's first pitch to the wall for a two-run double and his first big league hit. The Big O was awash in sound, and eyes were misting. "At that moment," said Alou, "I thought of all the letters, all the phone calls I have gotten from hearing-impaired people, asking me to give Curtis a chance."
As Pride stood on second, third base coach Jerry Manuel called time and went out to talk to him. "He was telling me to take off my helmet," Pride said. "At first I thought, What's wrong with my helmet? Then I knew what he was talking about." Pride tipped his cap to the crowd.
Could he hear the cheering? "Here," said Pride, pointing to his heart. "I could hear it here." Second base umpire Gary Darling then went over to Pride. "I just told him to smile," said Darling. "It didn't look like he was enjoying himself."
Pride later said that, in fact, he was reliving his whole life at that moment. "I was thinking about how I was born deaf, about how I wasn't mainstreamed until the seventh grade, about spending eight years in the minors. Then I thought about how getting to the majors was easier than learning how to lip-read."
There was still a game to be played, a lot more game after Marquis Grissom's single brought Pride home with the tying run. Both Alou and Fregosi emptied their bullpens as the game moved into extra innings; the Expos' closer, John Wetteland, made his 64th appearance in the ninth, and Williams came on for Phillie to start the 11th. He worked out of a jam in that inning, but in the bottom of the 12th, Grissom led off with a double into the rightfield corner. Running on his own, he stole third, which put him into position to score the winning run when the next batter, Delino DeShields, lifted a short sacrifice fly to center. The Expos were almost too tired to celebrate. "We have been through so much in the last 24 hours," said Alou.
On Saturday the headline on the front page of Montreal's La Presse was FI‚Äö√†√∂‚àö‚Ä†VRE DE S‚Äö√†√∂‚àö¢RIE MONDIALE. There was indeed World Series fever as 50,438 fans filed into Stade Olympique to see their very own "kebecker," Denis Boucher of Lachine, Que., try to cut the Phillie lead to trois. Boucher brought a 1.64 ERA into the game, but the Phillies were unimpressed. Lenny Dykstra, Philadelphia's National League MVP candidate, led off the game with a double and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by John Kruk. Dykstra scored another run in the third, giving him 134 on the year and a chance to break the Phillie record of 158 set by Chuck Klein in 1930. Add to that a .305 average, a league-leading 120 walks, 37 steals, 18 homers and 61 RBIs out of the leadoff spot through last week's games, and no wonder Dykstra, when asked by a Philly beat writer how he was doing, said, "Fine, dude, but I'm a little mystified by my lack of national exposure."
Boucher exited after the fifth, but Greene, the Philadelphia starter, was mowing 'em down. He had retired 15 in a row going into the eighth and had a 5-1 lead. The Expos, however, employed a unique tactic to wear down Greene: They kept letting him get on base, with an error and two singles. "He was pooped after he ran out that chopper in the sixth," said Fregosi. So in the eighth, Greene gave up singles to Berry, who at that point had 64 strikeouts for the season, and to John VanderWal, and then the three-run home run to Cordero. Williams came in to hold the 5-4 lead in the ninth, and, as is his wont, Wild Thing nearly gave the Phillies a collective heart attack. After walking Walker with one out, he tried to pick him off and threw the ball past Kruk at first. Then Walker stole third. Williams watchers half expected him to throw a wild pitch, which would have been Philadelphia's 64th of the season, but he struck out Mike Lansing and got Berry to fly out. For one night, at least, Williams had defied the omens, and the Phils said their amens.
"A few more wins," said Greene, "and maybe we can stop hearing about '64."
Not a chance. That victory was the Phillies' 64th at night this season.
On Sunday, 40,047 fans showed up at the Big O for the finale. As in the first two games of the series, the Phillies jumped out to a seemingly cushy lead: Going into the bottom of the fifth, Philadelphia starter Danny Jackson led 5-2. But with men on first and second and none out, Rondell White, an erstwhile Harrisburger called on to replace Moises Alou in left, doubled in two runs to make it 5-4.
Which is where it stood when Williams came on in the ninth to 117 to nail down the victory and hand the Expos their 64th loss of the year. You know the rest.
In the victorious clubhouse, following his team's 22nd victory in its last 26 games, Felipe Alou smiled and said, "Our jubilation comes from many different places. We were written off in June, we were written off in July, we were written off earlier today. We are happy that Moises Alou is going to be all right. We are happy for Wilfredo Cordero, who is maturing as a shortstop and a hitter every day. But we still have a ways to go."
With each team playing 13 more games after Sunday, a four-game deficit is a lot to make up. But it can be done. Just ask Bob Oldis, the Expos' Midwest scout. Oldis, who will soon be scouting American League clubs if the Expos stay close to the top, was once a coach with the Phils. Back in '64. "You never know in this game," says Oldis. "Maybe my Expos will help get the '64 Phillies off the hook."