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 in history, using the statistics-based software of the sports-game company Strat-O-Matic. The first-round best-of-seven-game series pits the 1985 Blue Jays against their World Series-winning counterparts from 1993, while on the other side of the bracket the 1981 Expos take on the 1994 Montreal squad. Today’s match-up is Game No. 1 of the all-Expos series.
Donald Sutherland threw out the first pitch and security staff threw out the first streaker at a festooned Olympic Stadium, site of the opening game of the series between the 1981 Montreal Expos and their heavily favoured 1994 counterparts. The game, won 4-2 by the ’94 squad behind the steady pitching of Ken Hill, was ho-hum by comparison.
With Celine Dion’s rendition of O Canada still reverberating around the cavernous Big O, the home-side 1994 Expos jumped on ’81 starter Steve Rogers for three runs in the first two innings. A two-out triple by young Cliff Floyd drove in Mike Lansing in the bottom of the second, giving the team from ’94 a lead it would not relinquish.
The much-anticipated series pairs teams both affected by strike-shortened seasons. The so-called “team of the eighties” peaked in 1981, when it lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Following a midseason players’ strike, the schedule had been split in half. Enthused by rookie-of-the-year runner-up Tim Raines, carried by a deep starting rotation and led by the profound slugging of Andre Dawson and Gary Carter, the team was the franchise’s first and only postseason participant.
Of course, postseason opportunity was something denied to the 1994 Montreal team, which had compiled Major League Baseball’s best record (74-40) into the second week of August that year. Moisés Alou, Marquis Grissom, Darrin Fletcher, Wil Cordero and pitcher Hill had represented the Expos in the All-Star Game. It was all for naught for the juggernaut: A labour dispute wiped out the remainder of the ’94 season and endured into the next one. “What might have been” is forever that team’s downhearted motto.
In Game No. 1 of the all-Expos series, the 1994 edition was all business. The 28-year-old Hill allowed one earned run on six hits before being removed by manager Felipe Alou in the sixth inning. Relievers Mel Rojas and closer John Wetteland finished the game as efficiently as Hill had begun it.
“He was good,” manager Alou said after the game about his starting pitcher. “The leadership there on the hill, the intensity. There was a lot of life in this game because of him.”
There was certainly life in the game during the top of the eighth inning. After a pinch-hit solo home run by 1981′s John Milner, a fellow bounded onto the unforgiving artificial turf and attracted attention for a minute before being tackled and escorted off the field by stadium security staff.
Earlier in the tilt, an odd message flashed across the scoreboard, saying that Sutherland, who was sitting in the stadium, had a phone call. On the line was his agent.
“It was the third inning, so I told him I couldn’t talk on the telephone at the moment,” the Ordinary People actor would later explain. “I hung up and returned to my seat.”
After his team had won, the elated New Brunswick-born superfan called his agent back, on a pay phone outside the locker room. “I said, ‘I don’t care what the deal is, I’ll do the film.' ”
The game lasted 10 minutes shy of three hours. Highlights were few from the 1981 supporters’ view, but shortstop Chris Speier did range deep into the hole to make a dazzling play on a hard-hit grounder by opposing catcher Fletcher in the third inning.
A bit of pregame drama involved the 1994 squad’s lineup. It was speculated that Larry Walker, who had finished the regular season playing first base because of an injury to his throwing arm, would be able to return to his customary position in right field. The rumour was false. Walker, a Gold Glove outfielder, was at first base when the game began. He’s expected to remain there for the series.
Scheduled starting pitchers for Game 2 of the series are 1981′s Bill Gullickson and 1994′s Pedro Martinez.
Tomorrow, The Globe will run a game report and boxscore of Game No. 2 of the Toronto side of our computer-simulated tournament. Scheduled starting pitchers are Jimmy Key for the 1985 Jays and Dave Stewart for the Jays of 1993. The winner of the best-of-seven series will face the victors of the matchup between the Montreal Expos teams from 1981 and 1994. The last team standing wins the Macdonald-Cartier Cup.