1987 Montréal Expos
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Managed by Buck Rodgers
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Hubie Brooks, Tim Raines and Tim Wallach
- Player of the Year: Tim Wallach
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Tim Wallach (3B)
- Best Rookie: Casey Candaele
- Topps All-Star Rookie Team: Casey Candaele (2B)
- Nl Manager of the Year: Buck Rodgers
- Players of the Month:
- Minor League Player of the Year: Johnny Paredes, Indianapolis (AAA)
- Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Brian Holman, Jacksonville (AA) and Indianapolis (AAA)
The 1987 Montreal Expos were not expected to be competitive. They had finished below .500 in 1986 and in the off-season, had seemingly lost two-thirds of their outfield to free agency. Yet the team found its way into the pennant race until late September.
The 1986-87 off-season was the heart of the era of collusion. In order to control what they perceived as runaway salaries, Major League team owners, at the urging of commissioner Peter Ueberroth, had decided not to bid on each other's free agents, expecting that players would have no choice but to re-sign with their old teams at a discount. However, the Major League Baseball Players Association did not take this lying down. They sued the owners for damages (they would eventually win all three cases brought before labor arbitrators) and urged their members not to sign for artificially low salaries, thereby bringing things to a crisis. This was because the rules stated that if a team did not re-sign a free agent by a certain date early in the off-season, it was forbidden from doing so until May 1st of the following season. When the first date passed, a slew of free agents suddenly found themselves in limbo, unable to re-sign with their old team, and with no other team willing to bid for their services. The Montreal Expos were at the heart of this storm, as they had three players thus affected: outfielders Andre Dawson and Tim Raines and pitcher Dennis Martinez. The conventional wisdom was that these players were now lost to the team, creating a huge hole in the roster.
In the case of Dawson, this was true. He felt that the rock-hard artificial turf at Stade Olympique was the cause of the chronic pain he was feeling in his knees, and he wanted out at any cost. In a desperate move, he offered the Chicago Cubs a blank cheque to sign him. Embarrassed, the Cubs offered him a one-year contract for a paltry amount, well below his market value, hoping he would turn it down. However, Dawson did not, and became the only top-notch free agent to change teams before the 1987 season started.
As these events unfolded, General Manager Murray Cook was scrambling to put together a competitive team. For the third consecutive off-season, he pulled off a blockbuster trade, sending an established star away for a package of young players. On February 3rd, All-Star reliever Jeff Reardon was sent to the Minnesota Twins, alongside back-up catcher Tom Nieto, for left-handed starting pitcher Neal Heaton, catcher Jeff Reed, and two young pitchers who were not expected to play in the majors for a number of years, Al Cardwood and Yorkis Perez. He also signed unsought free agent Dave Collins to replace Raines in left field. Collins had long been a poor man's Raines, a speedy outfielder with some on-base skills who had managed to extract a hefty contract out of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner back in 1982 when the latter thought speed was the missing ingredient standing between his team and success in the World Series. Collins was a bust for the Yankees, and had been moving from team to team since then; his presence was not really enough to reassure Expos fans that the team could overcome the loss of Raines. To fill out the pitching staff, Cook issued non-roster invitations to spring training to just about every re-tread Major League pitcher still drawing a breath: Len Barker, Bruce Berenyi, Mike Jones, Mike Madden, Pascual Perez, Lary Sorensen and Chris Welsh made up that group, along with Mexican League veteran Ubaldo Heredia. This is a fairly standard practice in the 2000s, but it was a radical move back in 1987. Most of these pitchers were busts, but the strategy would pay off big time with one of the names on the above list.
As spring training progressed, the Expos were still struggling to put together a team. Collins, who seemed a lock to be the starting left fielder, was released on March 31st. Another veteran pitcher, Bill Campbell, was brought to camp and made the opening day roster. On April 3rd, outfielder Reid Nichols was picked up on waivers from the Chicago White Sox: he would be the opening day center fielder! And meanwhile, Raines and Martinez were unsigned and trying to keep themselves in shape on their own. Martinez even signed a one-month contract with the Class A Miami Miracle to get some playing time against live hitters. Given this state of confusion, pre-season predictions only disagreed on whether the Expos would finish 5th or 6th in the National League East, far behind the favorites, the defending champion New York Mets and the strong St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies.
The regular season started off on the wrong foot. On opening day, April 6th in Cincinnati, the previous year's Player of the Year, pitcher Floyd Youmans, was roughed up and the Expos lost, 11-5. They then lost their next four games on the road. In the team's third game, April 10th against the Houston Astros, Danny Darwin hit shortstop Hubie Brooks' right wrist with a fastball, sending him to the disabled list until late May. He should not have felt lonely, as he was joining pitchers Bryn Smith and Tim Burke and catcher Mike Fitzgerald there. That day, Heaton, making his first start as an Expo, got a rough welcome to the National League, giving up four runs on a home run and four stolen bases in the 1st inning of a 6-1 defeat.
And then, suddenly, things started turning around. The Expos won four of their next five games, keeping their heads above water. They found an unlikely hero in Casey Candaele, a rookie who could fill in at just about every position on the field. After rookie Alonzo Powell, promoted straight from AA to take over Raines' spot in left field and as the lead-off hitter, proved not to be ready for the big time, the diminutive Candaele stepped in ably at the top of the batting order, starting games in center field, left field, at shortstop and at second base and hitting .317 in April and .318 in May. For his part, after some extra work with pitching coach Larry Bearnarth to improve his holding of baserunners, Heaton beat the Cardinals in his second start on his way to posting a sparkling 10-3 record over the season's first three months.
On May 1st, the Expos announced that they had re-signed Raines and Martinez. They lost that day's game, 7-6, to the Mets to fall to 8-13, but what happened the next day has become legendary. Batting third in his first game back, Tim Raines hit the first pitch David Cone sent his way for a triple, then added a walk and two singles as the game went into extra innings. In the 10th inning, he sent a Jesse Orosco pitch over Shea Stadium's right field wall for a game-winning grand slam. For good measure, he hit another game-winning home run the next day, starting an incredible stretch where he was on fire. He hit .349 in May, then .388 in June. On May 4th, it was third baseman Tim Wallach's turn to come alive, as he hit three home runs in one game against the Atlanta Braves. The Expos lost that game 10-7, but Wallach went on a tear, taking advantage of Raines being constantly on base in front of him to drive in a team-record 29 runs that month, on his way to another team record of 123 RBIs for the year. He was named the team's Player of the Year, although to be fair, the honor should have gone to Raines, who scored 123 runs - the highest total in the Majors - in spite of missing a full month, hit .330 with 90 walks, and managed to pop 60 extra-base hits on top of that while being successful on 50 of 55 stolen base attempts. To cap it off, Raines was named the MVP of the 1987 All-Star Game, after going 3 for 3 with a stolen base and a game-winning two-run triple off Jay Howell in the 13th inning. On August 16th, he became the third player in team history to hit for the cycle in a 10-7 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
With Raines, Wallach and Heaton clicking on all cylinders, the Expos were over .500 by the end of May, and cranked it up one more notch in June, especially after Dennis Martinez rejoined the team on June 7th, replacing the disappointing Jay Tibbs in the starting rotation. Martinez went 11-4, 3.30 the rest of the way and would remain one of the major leagues' top starting pitchers until the second half of the 1990s. By the end of June, the Expos were in second place, tied with the Mets but trailing the red-hot Cardinals by 6½ games. The Expos got another lift at that point when Youmans finally started pitching in a manner commensurate with his talent. After two stints on the disabled list, he was the National League Pitcher of the Month for July, going 4-1, 1.13, including 3 complete game shutouts, one of them a one-hitter in Houston on July 8th. But then, as quickly as he found his groove, he lost it again, going 1-4 with an ERA over 9.00 in only seven starts over the season's last two months.
In early August, with both Youmans and Heaton struggling, the Expos were short of reliable starting pitchers, even with Martinez, and Bryn Smith, who had returned from the disabled list in May, pitching well. Bob Sebra was piling up innings and notching plenty of strikeouts, but couldn't seem to win. His start of July 1st epitomized the problem: he pitched a complete-game three hitter while striking out 14 Cubs batters and walking one, but lost 1-0 on a 9th-inning home run by Jerry Mumphrey; it remains one of the 10-best pitching performances by a losing pitcher in the last 30 years, as measured by game score. Overall, Sebra went 6-15, 4.42, with 156 strikeouts in 177 innings, but failed to win a game after July 12th. Help would finally come in dramatic fashion on August 19th, in the unlikely person of Pascual Perez. After failing to take advantage of his spring training invite because of visa problems, Perez came back from a 1-13 season with the Braves in 1985, and a year on the sidelines in 1986, to pitch solidly in AAA, going 9-7, 3.79 for the Indianapolis Indians, earning the American Association's Pitcher of the Year honors in the process. He was not involved in the decision in his two August starts, but in September, he went 7-0 in 8 starts, pitching 2 complete games, and posting an ERA of 2.30 and 58 strikeouts in 70 innings overall. He quickly became a fan favorite with his quirky antics.
Starting in mid-August, the Expos were making up ground steadily on the Cardinals. When they swept them in Montreal on September 7-9, they closed to within 2 games of first place. They remained within 2 to 4 games of the lead for the next two weeks, and headed to St. Louis on September 29th trailing by three games. In that night's doubleheader, the Expos were shut out twice by the Cards, losing 1-0 in the opener when Joe Magrane out-pitched Martinez, and dropping the nitecap 3-0 to Greg Mathews. A split of the remaining two games in the series was not enough to reverse the course, and the Expos ended the season three days later with a record of 91-71, in 3rd place, one game behind the Mets and four games back of the Cardinals. It was their highest win total since 1979.
In addition to Raines and Wallach, the other offensive contributors for the Expos were 1B Andres Galarraga, who hit .305 with 40 doubles and 13 home runs in his second season, shortstop Hubie Brooks, who hit .263 with 14 homers and 72 RBI in 112 games, and right fielder Mitch Webster, who scored 101 runs and hit 15 home runs with a .281 average and 33 stolen bases as the Expos' second-place hitter. Second baseman Vance Law bounced back from an off-year with a solid .273 average and 12 home runs, Tom Foley filled in ably for both Brooks and Law with a .293 average in 280 at bats. Candaele cooled down after his hot start, hitting .272 and eventually ceding back the lead-off spot to Raines in August. However, center fielder Herm Winningham only hit .239 with no power, and the catcher's spot provided little production: Mike Fitzgerald hit a punchless .240 in 107 games, while Reed did even worse with an even more punchless .213.
On the mound, the bullpen did a tremendous job in spite of the loss of Reardon. Tim Burke went 7-0 with a minuscule 1.19 ERA and 18 saves after being activated in late April. Andy McGaffigan, who filled in as the closer in Burke's absence at the start of the year, saved 12 games with a 2.39 ERA in a yeoman-like 120 innings of work. Lefty Bob McClure went 6-1, 3.44, in 52 games; Joe Hesketh came back from arm problems to post a 3.14 ERA in 18 games over the last six weeks of the season. Jeff Parrett and Randy St. Claire rounded out the staff, but both posted ERAs over 4.00 in spite of striking out over a batter an inning. However, these ERAs are a bit misleading: apart from Martinez and Perez, no starter had an ERA under 4.00 either, as 1987 is now known as an anomaly in the otherwise low-hitting 1980s: batting averages and home run totals were inflated across Major League Baseball, meaning for example that Bryn Smith's record of 10-9, 4.37 and Neal Heaton's 13-10, 4.52 were actually quite respectable when taken in context.
Manager Buck Rodgers received a lot of credit for the Expos' surprising performance in 1987. He was praised for keeping the team together during its uncertain first few weeks, and for being able to sort out who could and could not contribute, ending up with a team much more competitive than anyone expected, and his work was recognized when he was named the NL's Manager of the Year after the season. Murray Cook would also have won praise for his work but for an unfortunate incident. On August 11th, the Expos called a hasty press conference to announce his replacement by former Expo pitcher Bill Stoneman and not giving any further explanation. The news leaked soon enough that the reason behind the firing was that Cook had been having an affair with the wife of team President Claude Brochu, leading to his termination.
- Tom Heinlein: "Tim Raines Hits for the Cycle; August 16, 1987: Montreal Expos 10, Pittsburgh Pirates 7 At Olympic Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 82-83. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6
- Mark Simon: "Raines Makes Grand Return to Expos; May 2, 1987: Montreal Expos 11, New York Mets 7 At Shea Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 79-81. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6