Thursday, May 19, 2011

1981 NLDS: Hey ... I'm from Rogers!

This should have been the St. Louis Cardinals' season. The Cardinals had the best record in the NL East in 1981 by a comfortable margin, but 1981's split schedule cost St. Louis a trip to the playoffs. The Cardinals were 2.5 games behind the defending champion Phillies when the strike hit, and they finished an agonizing half-game behind Montreal in the second half of the season, losing out on the pennant simply because they played one less game than the Expos.

Fair or not, it was the Phillies against the Expos in the NL East Division series. The Phillies were still riding high after winning the first World Series in franchise history the year before, while the 1981 season marked Montreal's first postseason appearance in franchise history.

The Expos won the first two games of the series at home by identical 3-1 scores. The series then moved to Philadelphia, where the Phillies won the next two games as the Expos committed a total of five errors in the two games. Game 5 would feature the same pitching matchup as Game 1, with Expos ace Steve Rogers going up against three-time Cy Young winner and future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.

The Game
1981 was not a kind season to hitters, and with two aces on the mound for this Game 5, there shouldn't have been too much surprise that a pitcher's duel broke out. The two Steves held the offenses in check for the first four innings, with nobody getting past second base. The Phillies got the best opportunity to score early, but Gary Matthews was thrown out at home trying to score on a single to end the bottom of the fourth.

In the top of the fifth, Rogers had a chance to win the game by himself. With two on and two out, Carlton walked Jerry Manuel to load the bases and bring up his opposing pitcher. Never a good hitting pitcher, Rogers had only driven in three runs all season long. But with the Expos facing their first real scoring opportunity, Rogers came through, driving a single to center to drive in two runs and give himself a 2-0 lead.

That was all the offense he needed. The Expos added a run in the sixth, but it wasn't really needed. Philadelphia didn't threaten much the rest of the way, with their only scoring opportunity snuffed out by a sixth-inning double play. Rogers finished the complete-game shutout, and the Expos moved on to the NLCS.

Montreal earned the right to play Los Angeles in the NLCS, fighting the Dodgers to the fifth game. Rogers won Game 3 of the series, then came in to relieve in the ninth inning of Game 5. Rogers gave up a home run to Rick Monday, a shot which gave the Dodgers the series win. Though heartbreaking at the time, the disappointment was tempered a bit by the belief that the Expos would be back. But they never were. The 10 games they played in 1981 were the only postseason games in Montreal history.

The Rundown

23. Montreal 3, Philadelphia 0 (1981 NL East Division Series)
24. N.Y. Yankees 7, Milwaukee 3 (1981 AL East Division Series)
25. Seattle 9, California 1 (1995 AL West tiebreaker)
26. Chicago 5, Atlanta 1 (2003 NLDS)
27. Houston 12, Atlanta 3 (2004 NLDS)
28. N.Y. Mets 5, Cincinnati 0 (1999 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
29. Cleveland 8, Boston 3 (1948 AL tiebreaker)
30. Houston 7, Los Angeles 1 (1980 NL West tiebreaker)

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