1981 National League East Division Series
From BR Bullpen
The 1981 playoffs were the first in Major League Baseball history to have three rounds, and the only ones to have three rounds until 1995. This was a result of the 1981 strike, which cut out the heart of the season, interrupting play from June 12 to August 9. When the owners and the players reached an agreement to resume play in early August, they also agreed on a split season formula to determine participation in the playoffs. As a result, the four teams that were leading their divisions when play halted - the New York Yankees in the AL East, the Oakland Athletics in the AL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West and the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East - were automatically qualified for the first round of the playoffs. They would face the winners of the second half of the season's divisional races. Since the decision was that no team would get a bye in the first round, even if it won both halves of the season, there was little incentive for the four winners to play hard in the second half of the season, and indeed the four first-half leaders coasted through the second half, focussing their energies in getting ready for the post-season.
The team that finished with the best record in the National League East in 1981 was in fact the St. Louis Cardinals, but they ended up being excluded from the playoffs because they had finished second behind the Phillies in the first half, and then lost out to the Montreal Expos by an excruciatingly small half-game margin in the second half. In fact the Phillies were only third overall in the division, but given that teams played a different number of games, these standings mean very little. The first round of the playoffs, called the National League Divisional Series would therefore oppose the Phillies and the Expos.
 The Teams
 The Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies had been one of the powers of the National League over the previous five years, winning division titles in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1980, and were the defending World Champions after defeating the Kansas City Royals in the 1980 World Series. They were a team laden with former All-Stars (seven of their eight starters had played in the All-Star Game at some point in their careers) all on the wrong side of 30, starting with an extremely strong infield composed of 1B Pete Rose, 2B Manny Trillo, SS Larry Bowa and 3B Mike Schmidt. C Bob Boone was also counted among the best at his position, as were CF Garry Maddox and LF Gary Matthews. RF Bake McBride was on the decline, and the team's bench was not considered particularly strong, although the Series would prove otherwise.
The pitching was another matter. Staff leader left-hander Steve Carlton was still one of the top pitchers in baseball, but the starters behind him were very weak: Dick Ruthven had had a terrible second half to finish the year with a 5.15 ERA after pitching in the All-Star Game, while third starter Larry Christenson was only 4-7 in 15 starts, and Nino Espinosa had posted a 6.11 ERA. The bullpen was strong, led by veterans Tug McGraw, Sparky Lyle and Ron Reed, but would the Phillies' starters be able to keep their team in the game long enough to hand them a lead ?
There was also some tension beneath the surface. This team of All-Stars who had won it all the year before harbored a collection of commensurate egos and a sense of self-importance that drove no-nonsense Manager Dallas Green crazy. He tried to shake up a team that had played listlessly during the year's second half, compiling a record below .500, by benching two of his regulars in favor of younger, hungrier players. On the eve of the Series' deciding game, he lashed out against his players, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer that: "A lot of these guys think they're real human beings, but they aren't." Shortly after the team lost the Series, he quit to become General Manager of the Chicago Cubs.
 The Montreal Expos
In contrast to the Phillies, the Montreal Expos were young and hungry. They had barely missed out on the playoffs in 1979 and 1980, and even though they had had a tough time clinching the second-half title, they were not a team to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, they headed into the Series with a distinct handicap, since the first two hitters of their line-up, switch-hitting rookie-sensation LF Tim Raines and 2B Rodney Scott were both unavailable because of injuries. In addition, RF was still an unsettled position, since the team had not found a permanent replacement for Ellis Valentine after his trade to the New York Mets in May. Thus, in spite of having their own core of solid players in C Gary Carter, 1B Warren Cromartie, SS Chris Speier, 3B Larry Parrish and CF Andre Dawson, the Expos could not quite match the Phillies' starters on offense, being forced to start weak-hitting Jerry Manuel at 2B and to rotate back-up Jerry White and rookies Terry Francona and Tim Wallach at the corner OF positions.
On the mound however, the Expos were much more solid than the Phillies. They had four excellent starters, starting with Steve Rogers, one of baseball's top right-handed pitchers, backed by Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson and Ray Burris. Swingman Bill Lee would help out the bullpen, which was led by closer Jeff Reardon and veteran left-hander Woodie Fryman, both of whom had sported ERAs below 2.00 in the regular season. Beyond those three, the bullpen was shaky however.
Neither Manager was particularly experienced in his current position, but the Phillies' Dallas Green had won the World Series the year before, while the Expos' Jim Fanning had only replaced Dick Williams on September 8, after 18 years of front-office duties. There was doubt whether his tactical acumen was at top-level, after all those seasons without wearing a uniform, but he had intimate knowledge of every player on the roster as a result of his years spent in player development.
 The Series
 Game One - October 7
|October 7, 1981 at Stade Olympique in Montreal, QC (Attendance: 34,237)||Boxscore|
The two aces, Steve Carlton and Steve Rogers, faced each other in the Series opener played October 7 at Stade Olympique. Phillies Manager Dallas Green shuffled his line-up by benching Garry Maddox and Bob Boone, replacing them by youngsters Lonnie Smith and Keith Moreland respectively, in effect trading defense for offense. For his part, Jim Fanning decided to put Warren Cromartie in the lead-off slot, followed by Jerry White playing left field, while Tim Wallach would play right field and bat sixth.
Neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp however. The Expos opened the scoring in the bottom of the first when Gary Carter doubled in Jerry White, who had stolen second base. The Phillies got that run back immediately in the second on a solo home run by Keith Moreland, but Steve Carlton was tagged for doubles by Tim Wallach and Chris Speier in the bottom of the inning to give the Expos a 2-1 lead. Steve Rogers settled down after the home run, even though he gave up 10 hits over 8 2/3 innings, keeping the Phillies off the scoreboard. The Expos added an insurance run in the fourth when Speier walked and was sacrificed to second by Rogers to come scoring on Cromartie's double. Rogers was lifted after giving up singles to Moreland and pinch-hitter George Vukovich with two outs in the 9th. Jeff Reardon came in to face Manny Trillo, who lined out to left field to end the game.
 Game Two - October 8
|October 8, 1981 at Stade Olympique in Montreal, QC (Attendance: 45,4896)||Boxscore|
The Expos sent second-year right-handed pitcher Bill Gullickson to the mound; he had posted a 2.81 ERA in 22 regular season starts and had collected a team-leading 115 strikeouts, even if his record was only 7-9. He was facing the Phillies' Dick Ruthven, who had a shiny 12-7 record and had pitched in the All-Star Game, but who had also compiled an awful 6.75 ERA in the second half. The two teams kept the same starting line-ups, except for Fanning replacing right-handed hitting Wallach with left-hander Terry Francona in the sixth spot of the batting order, and interverting Jerry Manuel and Speier in the seventh and eighth spots.
The Expos jumped on Ruthven for an early 3-0 lead, scoring an unearned run in the second when Larry Parrish reached on an error by Mike Schmidt, moved to second on a walk to Francona and scored on Speier's single. They added two runs in the third on a double by Cromartie which set up Gary Carter's two-run home run. Gullickson began to show signs of fatigue with two outs in the eighth, when he gave up a double to Smith followed by a run-scoring single to Pete Rose and a double to Bake McBride. Reardon came on in relief again, and after walking Schmidt intentionally to load the bases, proceeded to induce Gary Matthews to pop up to end the threat. He then set down the Phillies in order in the ninth to send the teams to Philadelphia with the Expos enjoying a two game to none lead.
 Game Three - October 9
|October 9, 1981 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, PA (Attendance: 36,835)||Boxscore|
The Phillies headed back to Veterans Stadium with their backs to the wall. Green gave veteran Larry Christenson the ball, to face another veteran, Ray Burris, who had posted a 9-7 record with a 3.04 ERA with the Expos. The two teams used the same line-up as in Game Two.
The Expos took the early lead again, scoring a run in the top of the second inning on a double by Carter and a single by Speier. However, the Phillies answered immediately with two runs in the bottom of the inning with singles by Matthews and Moreland followed by another single by Trillo after one out, which also scored Moreland when CF Andre Dawson misplayed the ball. Things remained like that until Moreland led off the sixth with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Luis Aguayo. Larry Bowa moved him to second on a sacrifice bunt; after Trillo was walked intentionally, Bill Lee replaced Burris to face the pitcher's spot, where Vukovich was sent to pinch-hit for Christenson. He singled to center, scoring Aguayo, then Rose added another single after the second out to increase the Phillies' lead to 4-1. The Expos placed their first two batters on base against reliever Sparky Lyle in the top of the seventh, but failed to score. The Phillies finished them off with two more runs in the bottom of the inning off Elias Sosa, with a double by Schmidt, an infield single by Matthews followed by a run-scoring error by Sosa, and a run-scoring single by Bowa. An Expo run in the eighth, on a double by White and a sacrifice fly by Carter, had no effect on the game's final outcome.
 Game Four - October 10
|October 10, 1981 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, PA (Attendance: 38,818)||Boxscore|
Not wanting to send Steve Carlton to the mound on only two days' rest, Dallas Green was forced to go to the back of his pitching staff to find his Game 4 starter in the person of Dickie Noles, who had only pitched 13 times all year, including 8 starts, with a 2-2 record and a 4.17 ERA. For the Expos, Scott Sanderson took the mound, after a 9-7 season with a 2.96 ERA. The match-up seemed to be hugely in the Expos' favor. The rest of the starting line-ups were unchanged from the previous two games, but in fact, neither of the starters were too sharp that day and the game would turn out to be an exciting see-saw affair.
The Phillies took a quick 2-0 lead in the first when Schmidt hit a two-run homer, scoring McBride who had preceded him with a single. They added two more runs in the third, when Rose opened the frame with a single. After McBride struck out, Schmidt walked and Matthews appeared to hit what was an inning-ending double play grounder to shortstop. However, second baseman Manuel failed to touch second on the pivot, and the Phillies had men on second and third with two outs. Stan Bahnsen came in to relieve Sanderson and allowed a two-run single to Moreland, putting Montreal in a deep 4-0 hole. Carter hit a home run in the fourth to make it 4-1, then in the 5th, Speier led off with a double, followed by a walk to Manuel. Pinch-hitter Brad Mills walked to load the bases with none out, and Noles left in favor of Warren Brusstar. He scotched the potential rally by allowing only a sacrifice fly by White to bring the score to 4-2. The Expos tied the score in the 5th on singles by Parrish, Speier and pinch hitters John Milner and Wallace Johnson.
The Phillies took the lead again with a solo home run by Matthews off Woodie Fryman in the bottom of the 6th, but the Expos tied it again the next half-inning on a walk to White and a double by Carter. The score remained thus until the end of the 9th and the teams headed into extra innings with their bullpen aces, Jeff Reardon and Tug McGraw, on the mound to begin a third inning of work, as the managers were running out of reliable options to relieve them. McGraw escaped a 10th inning threat when Parrish failed to execute a sacrifice bunt and grounded into a double play instead, but in the bottom of the inning, Vukovich, pinch-hitting for McGraw, led off with a home run off Reardon to win the game and tie the series.
 Game Five - October 11
|October 11, 1981 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, PA (Attendance: 47,384)||Boxscore|
The deciding game of the Series was a second match-up between the two teams' aces, Steve Rogers and Steve Carlton. The Expos made only one change to their line-up, substituting the right-handed hitting Tim Wallach for left-hander Terry Francona, while Dallas Green decided to insert George Vukovich in right field and in third place in the batting order, replacing McBride, after his pinch-hitting heroics throughout the series. He also put Bob Boone back in to catch, moving Manny Trillo to the sixth spot in the order, and placing the light-hitting Boone in eighth place.
In the 1st inning, Carlton came out on fire, striking out the side, while Rogers allowed two hits before escaping the inning unscathed. When Gary Carter was picked off first base in the second inning, it looked like the Expos were in for a tough day. Rogers settled down, however, and the game was still scoreless after four innings. Parrish led off the fifth with a single, followed by a walk to Wallach. Speier forced Wallach at second, then Manuel walked to load the bases with one out. Rogers came on to bat and delivered a single to center to score two runs, then the Expos added an insurance run in the sixth on a single by Dawson and a double by Parrish. With a 3-0 lead, Rogers escaped a two-on, none-out jam in the bottom of the 6th, then held the Phillies scoreless over the last three innings, pitching a perfect ninth to nail the shutout, the victory and the series for the Expos.
The two teams had shown that they were almost evenly matched throughout the series, with Steve Rogers proving to be the difference when he outpitched future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton in two head-to-head match-ups. Rogers was the Expos' hero, of course, but so was Chris Speier, who hit .400, scored 4 runs and drove in 3, and Gary Carter, who hit .421 with 3 doubles and 2 home runs. It was clear however that Tim Raines and Rodney Scott were missed, since their replacements, Jerry White and Jerry Manuel, hit .167 and .071 respectively. For the Phillies, the best hitters were Keith Moreland, who hit .462 and drove in 3 runs, Gary Matthews, who hit .400, and the unexpected George Vukovich who went 4 for 9 with a game-winning home run. The goats were middle infielders Larry Bowa and Manny Trillo, who went 6 for 33 between them. In the end, it was not their lack of starting pitching that hurt the Phillies, but their inability to score runs for Steve Carlton and Dick Ruthven.
In any case, the Phillies were heading home, and the Expos were on their way to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
 Further Reading
- Thomas Boswell: "Indecent Exposure", in Why Time Begins on Opening Day, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1984, pp. 275-286.
- Daniel Caza: "Le championnat (1981)", in Les Expos du Parc Jarry au Stade Olympique, Les Éditions de l'Homme, Montréal, QC, 1996, pp. 186-194.
- Danny Gallagher: "Expos finally make the post-season", in Remembering the Montreal Expos, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, pp. 65-66.
- Brodie Snyder: The Year the Expos Finally Won Something, Checkmark, Toronto, ON, 1981.
|Major League Baseball National League Division Series