Monday-Monday: a heartbreak for Montreal

This was the week 41 years ago — perhaps even the day, depending on when you’re reading this — that the Montreal Expos completed their one and only trip through the baseball playoffs. It became a day for the city’s baseball fans to remember where they were when.

When…was October 19th, a cold Monday afternoon, 24 hours after the National League Championship Series was supposed to end but didn’t, because Sunday was wetter and colder.

When…was the ninth inning of the “you’re-going-to-the-World-Series” game, with the Expos and Dodgers tied 1-1.

When…was the moment a historic home run made confetti of the Expos’ tickets to New York, hit by Rick Monday, whose name had nothing to do with what day it was.

Yet it will forever be Blue Monday.

He and Steve Rogers, the Expos’ best pitcher ever and instigator of Monday’s storybook moment, remember where they were, of course, for different reasons. At impact, Monday didn’t know where the ball was going while Rogers looked like he did, twisting on the mound to watch Andre Dawson, running it down in centre field until the fence cut him short.

An unlikely hero, Monday was a part-time outfielder in the final seasons of a 19-year career with three teams, the last of them the Dodgers. At 35, he started only because the outfielder he replaced, Ken Landreaux, was hitting .100. Until his dagger to the Expos’ heart, Monday’s career highlight was saving an American flag two fans set ablaze — at Dodger Stadium, where people have long memories. He was playing for the Cubs but within a year, he was a Dodger for life.

Monday didn’t save any more flags but on “his” day in Montreal, he saved the Dodgers. And it was his day. He’d singled four innings earlier and scored the Dodgers’ other run. When he came to bat in the ninth inning, there were two out and nobody on base. Monday ran the count to 3-and-1, then hammered a ball that years later Rogers explained this way: “Good hitters get paid a lot of money to hit pitches of that quality a long ways.” 

That Rogers was even in the game became controversial. Montreal manager Jim Fanning had just over a month of managing in the majors when he decided to make a relief pitcher of his best starter (his options were ace relievers Jeff Reardon, who had a sore back, and Woodie Fryman, whom the Dodgers had lit up in the series).

So Fanning opted for his best pitcher, period, and the result was unpredictable. Monday played in nine such series in his career. This was his only home run.

From the press box at Olympic Stadium, I also watched my tickets to New York turn into confetti. The whole city was wild about the Expos’ impending appearance in the World Series. The radio station where I worked booked its morning-show crew to the Big Apple, even though a rival station carried Expos’ games.

And so went my chance to be a broadcaster on Broadway. Like fans of the Expos, I’ve never quite forgiven Rick Monday.