Jour la Balle!

I had an uncle who lived way up in northern Vermont and during the late ’70s he’d drive up to Montreal in his Volvo 122S pretty often to take in a few strip bars and an Expos game. Once he took me with him (skipping the bar of course) and I never forgot it because after driving on these flat country roads for two hours that may have well been in France, we got to the city and found out that the game had been snowed out. In May.

So I couldn’t wait to whip those 4-Ds across my table this morning, even though Mikey, this really weird neighbor of mine who always smells like grilled onions, was staring at me from his trailer window…

Game of the Day

MONTREAL, QUEBEC—It’s April so it’s butt cold and here’s all these fashionable dudes on St. Catherine Street walking around in leather jackets that aren’t even zipped. The green line Metro station at Place-des-Arts is packed with Expos fans in their nutty red white and blue striped hats, and at every station it gets even more stuffed, because Opening Day at Stade Olympique is always in the 45,000-plus range. The next day’s game will be lucky to draw 10,000, and you’ll understand why soon.

The Metro rolls into Pie-IX station and we all get off, walk up a grey, endless ramp to the surface and stadium entrance that’s more like approaching an airplane gate than a ballpark. I’m too young to have gone to Jarry Park when the Expos were born in ’69, but I have to think the franchise might have never left Montreal if they’d just keep that charming little field and added on to it, because Olympic Stadium is the sorriest place to watch a ballgame I’ve ever been in.

For starters, it’s not a totally covered stadium, so there’s this weird dim light pervading everything, and when the ball is hit on the ground you constantly lose the thing in the Astroturf. The seats make this ungodly spring-release clattering sound that echoes all around the place whenever people stand at the same time. The Expos’ mascot is Youppi, a giant fuzzy orange eggplant with eyes who always manages to distract you at a critical moment. My uncle said the only thing that made the place bearable for him was the fabulous Canadian beer and the fact he could climb to a usually empty upper deck section and smoke a joint without being bothered. But that was then.

And this is now: the winless Phillies are here for the opener, and they rough up Jackie Brown for three hits and two runs in the 1st. Randy Lerch says watch me barf that right up, and there go hits by Dawson, Carter and Perez in the last of the 1st and it’s 2-2. Throwing any lefty against these ‘Spos is begging for punishment, and when it’s Lerch he just about locks himself to the rack and throws away the key. A Carter double and Valentine single in the 3rd makes it 3-2. A Cromartie triple and Speier single makes it 4-2. Shockingly, the Phils get sort of mad and re-tie the game in the 5th on a Lerch walk, Maddox triple and Bowa sac fly.

Danny Ozark wises up and yanks Lerch for Ron Reed, who then tosses five no-hit innings. Naturally, the Phillie offense goes into another coma. Their 3-6 spots of Hebner, Schmidt, Luzinski and Johnstone go a robust 2-for-24 on the day, and with Garber now in to throw over five innings of 2-hit shutout relief, the contest slogs deep into extras. A leadoff double from Bowa in the 13th gets Philly nowhere, and finally with two Expos out in the last of the 15th, Andre the Hawk Dawson smokes a line-drive homer into the clattering left field seats to give Youppi orange spasms and thrill the local spectateurs.

PHL 200 020 000 000 000 – 4 10 0
MTL 201 100 000 000 001 – 5 11 0

W-Atkinson L-Garber HR & GWRBI-Dawson

REDS 5-9-0, at PIRATES 0-5-0
The home opener in Steel Town doesn’t go as well, as they can only scrape together five singles off the immortal Paul Moskau. George Foster begins his rampage with 2-run homers in each of his first two at bats off Kison, both coming after Morgan hits.

W-Moskau L-Kison HRS: Foster-2, Geronimo GWRBI-Foster

CARDS 7-13-1, at ASTROS 4-9-2 (12 innings)
Definitely a better Game of the Day than the Expos win, but y’know, I had to get that Montreal story out somehow. Astros take 2-zip lead. Cards tie it in 3rd. Astros take 3-2 lead, Cards tie it in 5th. Astros take 4-3 lead, Cards tie it in 7th. Cards take game with three runs in the 12th off Joe Sambito, on a bases-clearing double by Lou Brock. In between: 24 runners LOB combined, Tony Scott nails Howe at the plate trying to score on a Cruz double with two outs in the last of 10th, Watson starts a perfect 3-2-3 DP on Heity Cruz with the bases loaded and one out in the 11th. Scintillating game.

W-Metzger L-Sambito SV-Hrabosky HR: Cedeno GWRBI-Brock

at DODGERS 6-12-0, CUBS 3-8-0
With both Ontiveros and Morales out with short injuries, the Cubs are a little thin against Doug Rau, but Krukow doesn’t help things by stinking up Chavez Ravine with a godawful effort. Reggie Smith whacks one into the white-shirted bleachers in the 3rd to start today’s Dodger express.

W-Rau L-Krukow SV-Garman HRS: R. Smith, Lopes

INDIANS 5-12-1, at RED SOX 4-10-1
Recently dead guy Jim Bibby throws a tough CG at the reeling Red Sox (Can you really be reeling after just four games?) in a disastrous Fenway opener. We’re still 27 years away from the Curse ending, but it’s already in full swing as Fisk (3 games), Lynn (7 games) and Carbo (2 games) all get injured on the same day and Tiant can’t keep the ball in the park. On the plusses side, Bob Montgomery comes in for Fisk and crunches the first—and only—Sox homer of the year, while RIck Miller takes over for Lynn and hits a 2-run triple to tie the game 4-4 in the 8th. Only to have Rico Carty win it with another Monster shot in the top of the 9th off Bill Campbell. Wanna get even more spooky now? Check out this box score from Boston’s real home opener in 1977, a game I actually witnessed in damp, 37-degree weather.

W-Bibby L-Rotten Soup HRS: Thornton, Blanks (!), Carty, Montgomery GWRBI-Carty

at YANKEES 4-6-0, ORIOLES 2-1-0
Not a bad first start for Yankee Stadium or Jim Hunter, who might’ve had his worst season that year. The Catfish retires the first NINETEEN Birds before a walk and Eddie Murray blast in the 7th provide the only Baltimore noise of the game. For the Yanks, Lou Piniella hits a three-run shot off Dennis Martinez in the 2nd on a lucky 1-3 roll, meaning it probably curled around the foul pole or something.

W-Hunter L-Martinez HRS: Murray, Piniella GWRBI-Piniella

WHITE SOX 12-18-2, at TWINS 1-8-1
Whatever. All I can say is that Minnesota could’ve won at least two if not swept their close series in K.C. if they’d gotten one timely bonk. Not the same story here, because Redfern was peppered like a carnival duck for ten hits and seven runs in less than four innings of work, but I do think the Twins will begin scoring soon. With their lineup they have to.

W-Knapp L-Redfern HR: none GWRBI-Spencer

at RANGERS 6-9-1, ROYALS 2-6-0
The Royals finally lose one, in spite of Brett’s two-run blast off Alexander giving them a 2-0 lead in the 3rd. Toby Harrah’s three-run bash turns that around right quick, and old Doyle goes the distance for a festive Arlington Stadium crowd.

W-Alexander L-Hassler HRS: Brett, Harrah GWRBI-Harrah

American League through Friday, April 18

Kansas City 3 1 .750
Cleveland 3 1 .750
Chicago 3 1 .750
Baltimore 2 2 .500 1
New York 2 2 .500 1
Texas 2 2 .500 1
Boston 1 3 .250 2
Minnesota 0 4 .000 3

National League through Friday, April 18

Pittsburgh 3 1 .750
Los Angeles 3 1 .750
Montreal 2 1 .667 0.5
Cincinnati 2 1 .667 0.5
Houston 2 2 .500 1
St. Louis 2 2 .500 1
Chicago 1 3 .250 2
Philadelphia 0 4 .000 3

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