Expos and Excellence

On September 29, 2004, Montreal bid adieu to its beloved Expos ball club.  And so, a baseball legacy faded into finality as the Expos transitioned to become the Washington Nationals.

Montreal never celebrated a World Series championship, but moments of greatness sprinkled across its major league tenure, which began in 1969.  Bill Stoneman, for example, stands as a bright spot, achieving twice what some pitching legends achieved once and others not at all—a no-hitter; Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and Jim Palmer fall into the former category while Steve Carlton, Lefty Grove, and Whitey Ford reside in the latter.

In the Expos’ rookie season, Stoneman threw a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies.  Although he walked seven batters, Stoneman retired the Mets with aplomb.  The New York Times noted, “There were no difficult plays by Stoneman’s teammates as only five balls were hit to the outfield.  Stoneman struck out nine.”

Both games had scores of 7-0.

Stoneman’s dual no-hitters belie a career win-loss record of 54-85 and 4.08 Earned Run Average.

Dennis Martinez retired 27 Dodgers on July 28, 1991 in a perfect game, the 15th time a major league pitcher reached that pinnacle of performance; 17 batters grounded out.  Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times noted the impact of the daytime schedule.  “Another factor, according to the Dodgers is that Dodger Stadium is toughest on hitters during afternoon games,” wrote Plaschke.  “It is even harder when Martinez is pitching, because in his windup he tucks the ball in his glove until the last possible moment.”

A recovering alcoholic, Martinez plodded through a minor league stint in the Expos organization after nine seasons as a favorite on the Orioles pitching staff.  “I look back and see the faith that I had, and the reaching out for help that I did, and I think, it is paying off now,” said Martinez.  Climbing his way back into the major leagues, Martinez kindled pride in his hometown—Granada, Nicaragua.  Kevin Baxter, also of the Los Angeles Times, explained, “Edgar Rodriguez, a sportswriter at El Nuevo Diario, said each of the country’s radio stations broke into their normal programming to report the perfect game.  That was cause for loud celebrating in the neighborhoods around his paper’s office.”

To call it a “masterful performance” is to do it injustice, like saying the Aurora Borealis is nice to look at.  “Though there weren’t advanced pitch-tracking systems back then to break down every Martinez offering that day, you’d swear he threw 50 of those trademark knee-buckling curveballs,” wrote Jonah Keri in his 2014 book Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball & the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos.

The perfect game was not an outlier for Martinez in 1991—he led the National League in Earned Run Average with 2.39.  And it was not the only marvel for Montreal during its series with Los Angeles.

Two days prior to Martinez’s accomplishment.  Mack Gardner threw nine no-hit innings; the Expos did not score either.  Los Angeles punctured hopes for the metropolis that Mark Twain dubbed “City of a Hundred Steeples” during a  visit in 1881.  Keri explained, “Dodger Lenny Harris opened the bottom of the 10th with a high chopper over Gardner’s head [Expos shortstop] Spike Owen charged, tried to field the ball…and dropped it.  A frustrating misplay, but with the ball hit that slowly, Owen would’ve had no chance to get Harris either way—it was an infield hit, busting the no-hitter.”

Daryl Strawberry won the game for the Dodgers with an RBI single in the 10th inning to bring Harris home.

Final score:  1-0.

Although Gardner cleared the Dodgers for nine innings, Major League Baseball’s scoring paradigm labels a game as a no-hitter when the pitcher’s team scores.  Hence, Gardner did not technically pitch a no-hitter.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 22, 2015.

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