Phillies Had Role in Montreal History

If all goes as baseball plans, the Montreal Expos are down to their final four games at Olympic Stadium. After this season, the Expos will likely be headed to Washington, D.C. and Canada will be down to one major league team. For Phillies fans, there is one major memory that stands out and ironically, it may have played a small part in the Expos' demise.

It was October 3, 1980 and the Phillies arrived in Montreal to decide who would win the National League East. The Phillies and Expos were in a dead heat through 159 games of the season.

It looked like the Phillies might be at a disadvantage. That Friday morning, Mike Schmidt woke up with flu-like symptoms. He spent the day in bed with a fever and when he finally arrived at the park, he was weak, but ready to go. Boy, was he ready. In the first game of the series, Schmidt delivered a homerun and a sacrifice fly as Dick Ruthven won his 17th game of the season and the Phillies triumphed 2-1.

Needing to win one of the remaining two games, the Expos didn't make it easy. Bob Boone, who was mired in a slump, delivered an RBI single in the ninth to tie the game. In the 11th inning, Schmidt went back to work. "He buried it!," screamed announcer Andy Muser. Schmidt launched a long, majestic homerun deep into the Olympic Stadium seats. Schmidt finished the season with 48 homeruns and 121 RBI.

It would be interesting to see what might have happened to baseball in Montreal, had that series gone the other way. In their 12th season of existence, the Expos came up just short of the playoffs. Fans were disappointed, but still psyched about the future of the club. That series is in no way the main reason for the Expos troubles in Montreal. In fact, it's hard to find the reason why things have gone so badly.

The following season, the Expos were again strong, but a mid-season strike would scuttle the season and forced a division playoff between the Phillies - who won the first half title - and the Expos who had won the second half. The five-game series started with the Expos winning the first two and the Phillies coming back to win the next two. In the deciding game, the Expos shutout the Phillies 3-0 and went to the League Championship series, only to again fall short of the World Series. Again, the fans could live with that.

Perhaps, the biggest blow came in 1994. The Expos truly seemed to be finally set to head to the World Series. They were 74-40 and enjoyed a six-game lead in the division. Then, again, the season stopped. By the time the labor strife ended, the World Series had been cancelled. The Expos are simply a footnote to the season. That was the first major blow to baseball in Montreal.

From there, came bad ownership, including current Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. His ownership resulted in the team becoming stewards of major league baseball after he jumped ship to buy the Marlins. Lawsuits from the whole debacle still linger in the courts and are an obstacle to the Expos exiting from Montreal for greener pastures.

Now, fans in Montreal are few and far between. A few hundred of them rallies prior to Saturday's game. They were vocal, but small and likely much too late for anything to happen that would keep the team in Montreal.

It's a shame, really. There was a time when fans packed Olympic Stadium. They were loud and they loved the game. Sure, it had never met the level of hockey night in Canada, but baseball was alive and well in Montreal. In fact, the success of the Expos led, in part, to Toronto getting an expansion team. Some say that expansion was another blow to the Expos, dividing the loyalty of some fans. Certainly, the Blue Jays '93 World Series Championship combined to make the sting of 1994 much worse than it would have originally been for the Expos.

Sunday may well be the last time that the Phillies play in Montreal. Of course, this is major league baseball and you can never know for sure what's going to happen. Many members of the Phillies believe the Expos will still be in Montreal next season while baseball continues to lay the ground work for their exit. Whatever the case, rest assured that in the not too distant future, all the Phillies will have of Montreal are memories.

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