Game #9 - Montreal Expos, 1 @ Houston Astros, 2 (15 Innings)
I was going to wait and clump all the final NL games for April 3 in one post, but the battle between the Expos and Astros could wind up being the most exciting game of the entire season. (Although I hope not - it wouldn't give me much to look forward to...)
The Astros scored the first run in the bottom of the first when Jose Cruz hit a sacrifice fly to score Dickie Thon, who had just nailed a triple. The Expos would tie it up in the top of the third with Tim Wallach hitting a double that scored Andre Dawson. Those are the only runs that were given up by starting pitchers Bill Gullickson and Joe Niekro.
Tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, lead off hitter Jerry Mumphrey fouled a ball back into the stands but near the field of play. Expos catcher Gary Carter injured himself diving into the stands trying to catch it and had to leave the game, replaced by rarely used backup Bobby Ramos. (Gary Carter played in a 159 games in 1984. 159!!!) Jeff Reardon was pitching at this point, and two batters later bobbled a soft grounder for an error against Enos Cabell, giving the Astros two men on with only one out. But Reardon got Denny Walling to ground into a double play to force the game into extra frames.
The game remained tight into the bottom of the twelfth. Astros OF Terry Puhl led off with a surprise bunt for a hit. Cabell sacrificed him to second base, giving the Astros two outs to push Puhl across home plate. I substituted the left handed Denny Walling for rightie Phil Garner since Dan Schatzeder, the southpaw reliever, was on the mound. Garner ripped a single to center field, and the third base coach frantically waived Puhl to home plate. But Expos center fielder Andre Dawson made like Gandalf the Grey and declared, "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!" He rifled the throw in from center and gunned down Puhl to keep the game tied. Schatzeder kept it interesting by walking the next hitter and giving up an infield hit to pinch hitter Jim Pankovits. Unfortunately for the Astros, Bill Doran grounded out to end the threat.
In the top of the 13th Tim Raines got his first hit of the game and promptly stole second base on a blown hit and run by Pete Rose. (Weird, I know - Pete Rose on the Expos. Another fun quirk about the 1984 season) Rose grounded out to shortstop Dickie Thon but Raines took third base on the play. That meant substitute catcher Bobby Ramos was up at bat. He attempted the suicide squeeze to score Raines, but the Astros were able to throw him out at the plate. Dawson struck out and the game pressed on.
In the bottom of the 15th Greg Harris (a 2-9 PB rating - the best rating for a pitcher in Statis Pro) took the hill for the Expos. Pankovits, who stayed in the game to play second when I put Astros reliever Dave Smith in Doran's spot, started things off with a single. Craig Reynolds pinch hit for Smith and laid down a sacrifice bunt to move over Pankovits, but, you guessed it, shouldn't-have-even-been-in-the-game Bobby Ramos bobbled the bunt, allowing Reynolds to make it to first safely with Pankovits standing on second. Dickie Thon hit a fielder's choice for the force out of Reynolds at second, leaving runners on the corners with one out for Jose Cruz. Cruz finally ended it, smoking a double to score Pankovits and record his second RBI of the game. Astros win!
Winning Pitcher - Dave Smith
Losing Pitcher - Greg Harris
Player of the Game - Jose Cruz, game winning double, 2RBI's
Injury - Gary Carter, he'll miss the next game too.
Hall of Famers in the Game - Pete Rose, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson
Jose Cruz, in my humble opinion, was the best National League outfielder in 1984 not named Dale Murphy. He had a monster season in the ultimate pitcher's park, the Astrodome. It makes me feel old that both Cruz AND his son, Jose Jr., are retired from the game.
I can't say enough for the bullpens of the Expos and Astros. On paper they've looked like the best I've seen since printing off the teams, and their dominant performances in this game seems to prove it.