In place of on-field baseball action postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Globe and Mail brings you a computer-simulated tournament involving four of the greatest Canadian teams, using the statistics-based software of the sports-game company Strat-O-Matic. Two first-round series eliminated the 1981 Montreal Expos and the 1985 Toronto Blue Jays, leaving the 1993 Jays and the ’94 Expos to compete for the mythical Macdonald-Cartier Cup. This matchup is Game No. 6 of the final series.
It’s hard to sell a team with as much talent as the 1994 Montreal Expos as a Cinderella story. But, if the shoe fits ...
The Expos, behind their whippet-sized right-hander Pedro Martinez, became Canada’s greatest baseball team in history with a 5-1 victory over the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays at Olympic Stadium. The Expos won the best-of-seven series to determine True North baseball superiority 4-2.
“We can hit home runs and manufacture runs, we’re athletic, we played good defence and had good pitching,” Montreal general manager Kevin Malone said after being presented with the inaugural Macdonald-Cartier Cup trophy. “And we played with a chip on our shoulders because most of the guys aren’t highly paid. They’re younger, still proving themselves, and we’re a small-market team in Canada. It has created an us-against-the-world attitude.”
In Game No. 6, the Expos jumped on Toronto starter Dave Stewart in the bottom of the first inning like he was a trampoline. Leadoff batter Marquis Grissom lofted the second pitch he saw from Stewart over the centre-field fence. Next, hitter Cliff Floyd followed with a dinger off the left-field foul pole. The Expos were up 2-0 before television broadcaster Don Chevrier even had time to tell his audience that "any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of the game, without the express written consent of Major League Baseball, is prohibited.”
Stewart lasted just two innings, giving up five runs (four earned) in his abbreviated outing.
On the other hand, ’94 Expo starter Martinez went the distance, limiting the ’93 Blue Jays to one run and just three hits. There’s good wild, and there’s bad wild. Martinez was good wild, striking out nine and walking five. He never let the veteran Blue Jay hitters feel comfortable at the plate against his assortment of mid-90 fastballs, heartbreaking curves and unfair change-ups.
“Toronto might buy the whole league, but they don’t have enough money to buy fear to put in my heart,” said Martinez, speaking postgame about Toronto’s MLB-leading US$45.7-million payroll.
Martinez was drenched in champagne, courtesy of third-string Expo catcher Tim Spehr, who after the game sprayed Moët product all over teammates as well as sports writers, baseball officials and innocent bystanders. Isn’t that always the way: The most inactive player on the field ends up being the most active in the clubhouse follies when it’s all over.
The atmosphere was less charged in the visitor’s locker room. Players sipped beer and munched on take-out pizza amid a mood of frustration rather than despair. Joe Carter meticulously went through a bag of leftover bagels, looking for a fresh one. “Touch 'em all, Joe," team radio broadcaster Tom Cheek said.
Larry Walker, the pride of Maple Ridge, B.C., was chosen the series MVP. Forced to play first base because of an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder, he hit .348, with two home runs and four RBIs.
Montreal won 74 the 114 regular-season games it played during a strike-shortened schedule, including 20 of its last 23 games. The 1994 Expos were a team of elite baseball athletes in their prime (Walker, Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Ken Hill, John Wetteland) and young nascent stars (Martinez, Wil Cordero). But, because there was no postseason, the Expos might best be described as the best team that never was.
“When we’re on a roll, we’re scary good,” Expo catcher Darrin Fletcher said back then. “This is the future of baseball. Obviously, if we can stay together, it would be great.”
Of course, it wasn’t to be. After the strike, the under-funded franchise peddled its best players. Attendance and interest in the team declined. Following the 2004 season, the team relocated to Washington as the Nationals.