The Montreal Expos’ Last Home Game and Final Game

The final mlb game at Olympic Stadium was played on September 29, 2004. Stephanie Myles of the Montreal Gazette wrote:

For the history books, it ended at 10:01 p.m., when Terrmel Sledge took a 3-1 pitch from Florida Marlins right-hander Rudy Seanez, and popped it up to a former Expo who served with honour for several years, Marlins third-baseman Mike Mordecai.

But in the end, the 9-1 loss wasn’t how the Expos wanted to end it.

And after the love shown by every one of the 31,395 fans on hand at Olympic Stadium last night, save for a very, very few yahoos, it was harder to say goodbye than the players thought it would be.

“It was kind of overwhelming, really. The reception makes it tougher to move on. It’s like you want to stand still right now and savour the moment, because you know when you walk out of this ball park tonight, it’ll be for the last time,” manager Frank Robinson said. “A lot of the players are in no rush to leave.”

The perfect ending, of course, would have been a win. But reality has no script, and Sunny Kim probably felt as badly about that as anyone. The Expos starter allowed the the Marlins to zip to a quick 5-0 lead, and it’s surprising there weren’t more miscreants than the ones who threw four golf balls on the field.

It all began in orderly fashion, as thousands of fans milled about the outfield getting autographs from current players and members of the near-championship class of 1994, invited for the occasion.

They filed off to take their seats as soon as they were told. And when some of the troublemakers in the crowd began booing the U.S. national anthem, they were immediately drowned out by the majority, who kept cheering until its conclusion.

The golf balls bounced onto the field in the third, once Expos reliever Gary Majewski began to pitch to Jeff Conine.

By angry crowd standards, it was as mildly Canadian as could be. But at 8:01 p.m., Robinson took the field and motioned his players off. The crowd booed. Flyers proclaiming “Bud Sucks” came fluttering down from the upper deck. John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” wafted over the public-address system, and the fans were warned that the game would be cancelled if they continued to throw objects on the field.

Eight minutes later, the Expos came back on to the field, and Majewski warmed up again.

At 8:14 p.m. the fans started the first wave, right about the time the police flashing lights appeared behind the outfield wall, and officers with impressive-looking gear started patrolling.

As it turned out, they weren’t needed.

By the sixth, with the score already 9-1, Robinson took several regulars out of the game, including first-baseman Brad Wilkerson and third-baseman Tony Batista.

And that’s when everything suddenly, serendipitously turned.

Leave it to Batista – who will be a one-year Expo, but who has shown an unexpected flair for the rightness of the moment – to lighten the mood.

As the cameras flashed to him in the dugout, with the scoreboard congratulating him on his 32 home runs, a franchise record for third basemen, Batista stood up and reached for the sky.

He then ran through the dugout low-fiving his teammates, then began applauding the crowd right back before walking onto the field, and once again reaching for the sky. The crowd loved it. They began chanting his name, one last time.

“It felt pretty good. It was an exciting moment. They surprised me with that kind of ovation,” Batista said afterward. “I tried to do my best for the team, and for myself.”

At 9:11 p.m., another golf ball was thrown into left field from the bleachers, leading to another warning on the giant screen. Play was stopped for two minutes, but that was it. No bedlam. As president Tony Tavares said before the game, they prepared for the worst, hoped for the best.

After the game, even the stoic Tavares, who was charged with making the announcement that the Espos were leaving, even though Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseballs chief operating officer, was at the stadium, had suspiciously red eyes.

Coach Claude Raymond, who pitched for the team in its infancy, was charged with thanking the crowd in French.

Utility-player Jamey Carroll, who finally became a major-leaguer here at age 30 after so many years of struggling, and who said afterward this was the place where his dreams became a reality, spoke in English.

Livan Hernandez, who also came out for a curtain call and a wave when his accomplishments were lauded, addressed the crowd in Spanish.

And that was it.

Turn out the lights.

Of all the creative signs in the stands, many of which contained language unsuitable for print, one stood out.

Is this how it ends? Thanks for nothing, it read.

As Robinson put it yesterday, “It’s sad any time a franchise moves, because you’re saying that you failed.”

The Gazette’s Jack Todd added:

The end is here. After 36 seasons, 2,753 wins, 2,942 losses, 2,786 home games, two inadequate ball parks, 12 general managers, 11 managers, one good owner, two bad owners and 108,858,412 fans who saw too few triumphs, too many heartbreaks and a single postseason appearance that ended with the Bluest Monday of them all, the Montreal Expos are no more.

Near-simultaneous announcements in Montreal and Washington, D.C., yesterday afternoon signalled the end after a week of furious rumours, a clumsy three-year search for a new home and at least seven years of waiting for the other shoe to drop. After playing a three-game series at Shea Stadium in New York this weekend, the team that played its first game at Jarry Park on April 14, 1969, will begin the process of moving to the U.S. capital in time to play its first home game at the refurbished RFK Stadium on April 15, 2005.

Expos president Tony Tavares made the announcement at Olympic Stadium, saying simply: “I am here today to confirm the movement of the franchise from Montreal to Washington.”

An extraordinary day ended with extraordinary scenes last night, with the season’s largest crowd, 31,395 fans, offering a classy farewell, standing and cheering through standing ovations for this year’s stars, Tony Batista, Brad Wilkerson and Livan Hernandez – and then falling silent to hear a few words from former relief pitcher Claude Raymond.

Raymond broke down after addressing the crowd.

“I wanted to give him a big hug,” said catcher Brian Schneider, who embraced the grief-stricken Raymond. “I know how much this team means to him.”

Wilkerson, sitting at an adjoining locker near the end of an outstanding season, tried to talk to a few reporters, broke down himself and slumped weeping over his spikes, too upset to speak.

Despite fears of a fan invasion of the field – or worse – the only real incident came in the top of the third inning, when manager Frank Robinson pulled his team off the field because someone was throwing golf balls at the players. Umpires and security people conferred and the game was delayed for 10 minutes, but it was concluded without further incident.

The outcome was a disappointment: The Florida Marlins of despised former owner Jeffrey Loria completed a three-game sweep with a 9-1 win. For the record, the winning pitcher was Carl Pavano (18-8), a former Expo who was a flop in this city. Expos starter Sun-woo Kim (4-6) became the last pitcher to lose a game in Montreal. The crowd sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game for the last time during the seventh-inning stretch, at 9:22 p.m., and the final out at the Big O was made by Terrmel Sledge on a pop-up to third base at 10:01 p.m.

Asked if he was surprised at the warm reaction of the fans, who applauded until the final out as though the Expos were winning a World Series game, manager Frank Robinson said, “I don’t know if I was surprised. I just liked to see what happened. It was very, very nice and kind of overwhelming. When I went out on the field at the end, I happened to look up and I said to myself, ‘Hey, there’s fans in the upper deck!’ It was unbelievable.”

The Expos’ final game was a little anti-climactic. It came on October 3, 2004, at Shea Stadium, which of course has joined the Expos in the memory/history books. The National Post reported:

The Montreal Expos era ended on a sad note yesterday as Todd Zeile smacked a three-run homer to lead the New York Mets to a 8-1 victory.

The Expos will move to Washington, D.C. next season after 36 years in Montreal.

They finished in last place with a 67-95 record and concluded with an all-time mark of 2,755-2,943.

“The name ‘Montreal Expos’ will not be used again. It’s a rude awakening,” Expos manager Frank Robinson said.

“It’s a sad situation because people in Montreal are losing a team. It’s a shame it didn’t work out.”

It ended where it began, in New York’s Shea Stadium. Montreal entered Major League Baseball with an 11-10 victory over the Mets at Shea Stadium on April 8, 1969.

Montreal had far less offence in its final game as Tom Glavine (11-14) pitched six strong innings, allowing one run and three hits.

Montreal infielder Brad Wilkerson said the news is not all bad.

“It’s both special and sad at the same time,” Wilkerson said.

Dodgers pitcher Eric Gagne, who grew up in Montreal, said the Expos demise will be felt more than just on the field.

Gagne is afraid the decision will also mean less young players will play baseball in Montreal.

“It is sad,” Gagne said. “I can’t tell you how many Expos games I went to when I was a kid.

“It is going to be hard for the economy and hard for the people in Montreal and everyone needs to realize that.”

The game also marked the last for Zeile, who is retiring after playing for 11 teams in 16 seasons.

A former Expo, Zeile started at catcher and went out in style with his home run.

“I was relaxed at the plate. If ever there was a time, this was it,” said Zeile.

“I would have liked to be playing some October baseball, but I couldn’t have been happier from a personal standpoint.”

Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 5:34 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It is very interesting that Termel Sledge hit the first home run in Nationals history on 4/4/2005. Livan Hernandez threw the first pitch in Nationals history.

    Brian Schneider soon became a fan of mine because on my 55th birthday (4/12/2005) he hit a gapper in the top of the ninth in Turner Field that drove in the tying and go-ahead runs to rally the Nats to a very improbable victory.

    Ron Menchine who covered the last game in RFK Stadium on 9/30/1971 passed away just a few days ago. There was a “send off” very similar to what took place in Montreal 5 years ago.

  2. After having been at the Rockies’ first game 11 years earlier, I was at the last Expos game, also at Shea. They put “Adieu Les Expos” on the scoreboard. Todd Zeile’s home run came in what would be his final Major League plate appearance, so he went out like Ted Williams. Zeile had come up as a catcher before switching to third and eventually other positions before winding up at first, and he always wanted to catch again at least one more time. It just had to wait until his last game. (I didn’t mean to make this post all about Todd Zeile but that’s what I remember most about the Expos’ last game.)

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