1981 National League Championship Series (NLCS), Game 5: Blue Monday
As a 9-year-old kid in 4th grade, some days are boring and time seems to move painfully slowly. Time moved especially slow for me on Monday October 19, 1981.
Why? Because I had tickets to the Montreal Expos afternoon game. And we are not talking about any ‘ol ball game…we are talking about game 5 of the NLCS against the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers! I was fortunate enough to have scored 2 tickets behind the plate in section 308 thanks to my dad who had season tickets from work. Although he could not make it, my Uncle Mel was more than happy to take me as he was a big Expos fan. He was a man of few words, but we could talk baseball for hours!
When the bell finally rang, I flew down the stairs and was the first to exit the building. Uncle Mel was already parked in front of the school, ready to drive eastbound to the Big O. The weather was awful but who cared? The Expos were 1 victory away from advancing to the World Series. I had been a loyal fan since I was able to lift a baseball glove. The Expos players were my heroes. Especially number 10, Andre Dawson. He had all the tools: speed, a golden glove with an arm like a cannon, ability to hit for average and of course, power. Not to mention the fact that he had the coolest nickname in baseball: The Hawk. But I digress.
When we arrived at the park, I remember noticing quite a few empty seats. This was due to the fact that it was a Monday work day and the only reason the game was on was taking place was because of a “rainout” the previous day (rainout in quotations as I think it actually snowed!). Who knows, maybe if we had over 54,000 fans as in the previous 2 games versus the Dodgers the outcome would have been different. But I guess I am reaching.
I also remember being concerned that we were facing Fernando Valenzuela. He had taken the league by storm with his unorthodox pitching motion and quite frankly, his unorthodox body. Not exactly a poster child for professional athletes. But once again, I digress. Regardless, I was more than hopeful that the Expos were going to figure out a way to win the ball game.
The excitement starting early as the Expos had runners on first and third with no outs in the 1st inning. And who was coming up to the plate? You guessed it – Number 10. The image of Hawk hitting into that tailor-made double-play ball is one I will never shake. Sure, a run scored on the play but I had a vision of Hawk slamming a base-clearing double, resulting in the Expos having a man on second with no outs and 2 runs in. I longed for a lead so later in the game when tasting victory, we could all stand and belt out our beloved “Valderi, Valdera” song. However, It was not meant to be. To this day, when I think about that game, I think about how different things would have been if Dawson would have lined one into the gap that at-bat even more than I think about that 3 and 1 cookie Rogers threw Rick Monday down the middle of the plate.
My other strong memories from that game were watching Valenzuela dominate after the 1st inning run. Wondering how the Expos were going to put a few more runs on the board. I also remember thinking how odd it was to see Steve Rogers come out of the bullpen. It just so happens he did not have his stuff, but again, what stands out more was seeing him take the mound in the 9th inning as opposed to inning number 1. To be honest, at the time, I was kinda excited to have him in there. The guy was gold that year, that game notwithstanding of course.
Anyway, my Uncle Mel was a very knowledgeable fan and when the count was 3 and 1, some schmuck in our section yelled out “throw one in there” to which my Uncle immediately threw out his rebuttal: “No! Don’t give him anything to hit”! Well, I guess Rogers already released the ball after having heard the instruction by the schmuck. If only he would have taken my wise Uncle’s advice.
My last memory from that game was that we made it exciting in the bottom of the ninth. We had 2 runners on and Jerry White came to the plate with 2 outs. There was hope. Until he grounded out. His speed actually resulted in a close play at first but the image of Steve Garvey dropping to his knees and raising his arms high in the air will be permanently etched in my brain. It was over. And we were not going to see the Expos play in the World Series.
I am not bitter about that loss. I will always cherish that season and the memory of being at that game with my Uncle Mel. And I have no ill will against Steve Rogers. That is why I wanted to include the pic of myself at 7 years old with Steve Rogers on field day at Olympic Stadium. Having said that, I would be lying if I said I am not bitter about the 1994 strike year when the Expos were unstoppable and destined to win it all. And even more bitter that we had a fire sale the following year, basically going from “la crème de la crème” of the league to fielding a minor league team. But I guess that story is for another article at a future date.