All-Canada: Expos vs. Blue Jays

By Stew Thornley

What may have been the last match-up of two Canadian major league baseball teams in Montreal took place the weekend of June 14-16, 2002 as the Toronto Blue Jays met the Montreal Expos at Stade Olympique in the first of two series between these teams (the second scheduled for the final weekend of the month).

A target of Commissioner Bud Selig’s attempts to eliminate teams, the Expos, if not contracted, likely will be playing in another city in 2003. The mood was especially gloomy in the Montreal press box, where local reporters talked in terms of this definitely—not possibly—being the final year of major league baseball in Montreal.

The reporters bristled at implications made by Selig and others that Montreal was not a city that could support baseball. They pointed out the often-stated reasons for the dropoff in attendance at Stade Olympique: the strike of 1994 that prematurely ended the season when the Expos were in first place, the overall economic craze of major league baseball, and the decline of the Canadian dollar. However, the scribes were unanimous in their opinion of the real problem and in identifying the villain—not Selig but Jeffrey Loria, who had become chairman, chief executive officer, and managing partner of the Expos in December 1999. Now in a similar role with the Florida Marlins, Loria and his son, David Samson, operated the Expos in 2000 and 2001.

It was Loria, according to beat writer Daniel Cloutier of le Journal de Montreal, who made the decision not to build a new ballpark despite help from the city and provincial government, the latter pledging to pay the interest on a $100-million loan that had already been lined up. Loria cited the Canadian dollar as the reason for his veto, although the Montreal press is firm in its opinion that Loria was not enamored with the Quebec culture and wanted out of the area. Instead of allowing a new ballpark to be built, Loria sold the Expos to the owners of the other 29 teams and received a bridge loan from major league baseball to purchase the Marlins from John Henry in February 2002.

The crowds have been so sparse at Stade Olympique in recent years that the team does not even open the upper deck. While this has the effect of massing the fans into the lower deck, it does not disguise the fact that few people are coming out to see the Expos. A crowd of 7,557 came out for the Friday night opener. The attendance reached into five figures for the Saturday game while the Sunday afternoon finale—helped by a Rusty Staub bobblehead giveaway—brought to attendance to more than 15,000. Even the giveaway of a figurine of one of Montreal’s favorite players, who was known as le grande orange in the years when the team played at Parc Jarry, did not produce the massive lines seen at other stadiums on bobblehead days.

The three-game series featured some interesting game, with a total of 11 home runs hit. In the opener, Toronto got its only two runs on the long ball—solo shots by Chris Woodward and Vernon Wells—off Tomo Ohka, who pitched seven innings of seven-hit ball before giving way to relievers Matt Herges and Joey Eischen. The Montreal offense was led by Brad Wilkerson, who had three hits, including a home run, and Lee Stevens, who broke out of a season long slump with two hits—a two-run homer and run-scoring triple. Combined with a bases-loaded walk in the first inning, which gave him 500 runs batted in for his career, Stevens drove in four runs in the game as Montreal won, 8-2. Toronto starter Justin Miller did not make it through the fifth inning, being pulled after allowing eight hits and six walks in giving up six of Montreal’s runs. For Toronto, Woodward had a single and triple to go with his home run.

On Saturday night, the Blue Jays built a 3-0 lead off Expos starter Carl Pavano, who allowed 10 baserunners in three-plus innings of work. Woodward opened the game with a single, which was followed by walks to Jose Cruz, Jr., Raul Mondesi, and Carlos Delgado to bring in the first run. Woodward then led off the third with a home run, and Vernon Wells did the same in the third. When Pavano issued his sixth walk of the night, to catcher Joe Lawrence, manager Frank Robinson summoned Zach Day, just called up from Ottawa, to make his major league debut. The first batter he faced was Estaban Loaiza, Toronto’s starting pitcher, who attempted to sacrifice. First baseman Lee Stevens fielded the bunt and fired to shortstop Orlando Cabrera to try and force Lawrence at second. Cabrera had dropped the ball as he tried to take it out of his glove for the relay to first, and second-base umpire Paul Schreiber called Lawrence safe. Day then got Woodward to ground into a force at second and Cruz to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Wilkerson led off the last of the fourth with a single, and Jose Vidro hit a hard ground ball to Woodward at short. Woodward tried to backhand the ball but had it skip off his glove into left field as Wilkerson made it to third on the error. Vladimir Guerrero popped out, but Troy O’Leary managed to get a run home, and advance Vidro to second, when he chopped the ball off the plate and was thrown out at first. Fernando Tatis followed with an infield single, and then singles by Stevens and Cabrera came through with run-scoring singles to tie the game. All three runs in the inning were unearned as a result of Woodward’s error.

Day retired the Blue Jays in order in the fifth and allowed a baserunner in the sixth—this one on another Cabrera error.

With one out in the last of the sixth, Guerrero beat out an infield single and went to second on a line single to right by O’Leary. Tatis drove Loaiza’s next pitch into the seats in left-center for a three-run homer to break the tie and finish the night for the Toronto starter.

Lefthander Graeme Lloyd pitched a scoreless seventh for Montreal, then was removed for pinch-hitter Andres Galarraga to start the bottom of the inning. Galarraga came through with a long home run to left center, his first home run since returning to the Expos after a 10-year absence. The Expos added two more in the inning on a single by Tatis, giving the Montreal third baseman five runs batted in. Bunching their runs in threes (following a game in which Montreal had produced four two-run innings), the Expos went on to win, 9-3, giving Day a win in his first game.

In the final game of the series, on Sunday, Toronto built another 3-0 lead. Shannon Stewart hit Javier Vazquez’s second pitch of the game off the left-field foul pole for a lead off home run. A one-out single by Mondesi and a two-out triple, a hit that bounced over Guerrero’s head in right, by Woodward produced another run. Woodward then scored on Cruz’s double off the right-field fence.

Off Toronto starter Steve Parris, Wilkerson responded with a lead-off homer in the last of the first. Vidro followed with a home run to cut the Toronto lead to 3-2. The score stayed that way until the last of the sixth when the Expos greeted reliever Brandon Lyon with four straight hits. The first two were a single and double, by Stevens and Cabrera, respectively, to put runners at second and third. Standing on deck as Brian Schneider stepped to the plate, Vazquez knew he would probably be pulled for a pinch hitter if Schneider failed to bring in the tying run. Schneider came through with a two-run double to left-field, and Montreal had a 4-3 lead. Vazquez bunted to advance Wilkerson and wound up with a single when Lyon slipped while fielding the ball. Scott Eyre replaced Lyon and gave up a sacrifice fly to Wilkerson.

While Schneider’s hit allowed Vazquez to remain in the game, the Montreal starter got into trouble in the seventh, giving up a one-out single and then a double to Stewart. Dave Berg struck out for the second out, but Mondesi brought in one and moved the tying run to third with an infield single. Lloyd was then called in to face the dangerous Delgado, who grounded out to end the inning.

Montreal still held a 5-4 lead, but that disappeared in the eighth when Jim Brower—a Minnesota native who had just been obtained by the Expos in a trade for Bruce Chen—gave up a single and double to start the eighth. That was all for Brower, and his replacement, Joey Eischen struck out pinch-hitter Eric Hinske. Felipe Lopez then fought off a couple of two-strike pitches and produced a ground out that scored the tying run.

Shannon Stewart led off the top of the ninth with a double and went to third on Berg’s sacrifice. With the Montreal infield pulled in, Stewart had to hold at third as Mondesi grounded to Cabrera. The next batter was Delgado. Robinson eschewed the intentional walk and brought in lefthander Scott Stewart, who got the Toronto first baseman to ground out to end the inning.

Blue Jays manager brought in Kelvim Escobar to pitch the last of the ninth and, as part of a double-switch, also inserted Vernon Wells into center field. With one out, O’Leary lifted a fly to center. Wells misjudged the ball, started back, then raced back in. The ball dropped in front of Wells and then bounced over his head, allowing O’Leary to reach second with a double. Mike Mordecai followed with a grounder up the middle. Third-base coach Manny Acta waved O’Leary home as Wells fired from center field. However, Wells throw, in addition to being off target, sailed over the head of catcher Tom Wilson as O’Leary stayed on his feet to score the winning run and complete a three-game sweep for the Expos.

Back to Milkees Press Home Page

Back to Stew Thornley Home Page