In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
It is a day that is forever known as Blue Monday as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Montreal Expos 2-1 in Game 5 of the NLCS at Olympic Stadium to reach the World Series. The Dodgers won the game on a home run by Rick Monday off Steve Rodgers in the ninth inning. The Dodgers would go on to beat the New York Yankees in the Fall Classic, while the Expos never again reached the postseason.
All of Canada was a buzz as the Montreal Expos brought playoff baseball to the North for the first time. The 1981 season was far from conventional as a two-month strike interrupted the middle of the season. When the season resumed, it was decided that a split-season format would bring an extra round of playoffs, as all teams were reset at 0-0 when the season resumed in August. When the season was halted, the Expos were in contention at 30-35, four games out first. In the second half, the Expos made the stunning decision to fire Dick Williams in September, as Jim Fanning who had worked in the Expos from the beginning of the franchise in the front office took over. Montreal would post a record of 30-23 in the second half, edging the St. Louis Cardinals by a half-game to qualify for the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Dodgers had a big first half boosted by Fernandomania, as Fernando Valenzuela a 20-year-old rookie from Mexico, won his first eight starts, and had an ERA of 0.50. Valenzuela would win both the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young, the only player to win both awards in the same season. The Dodgers managed by Tommy Lasorda held a record of 36-21, holding a half-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds when the strike began on June 12th. The Dodgers had their struggles in the second half, posting a record of 27-26 as the Houston Astros claimed the second-half title.
Two teams that were left fuming by the split season format were the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. The Reds finishing second in both ends of the split season had the best record in baseball at 66-42 but were not in the postseason. The Cardinals meanwhile were the best overall team in the Eastern Division at 59-43 but stayed also stayed home in the playoffs. The Cardinals rebounded to win the World Series in 1982, while the Reds lost 100 games for the first time in franchise history.
In the Division Series, the Dodgers lost the first two games at the Astrodome but rallied to win the next three games at Dodger Stadium, avenging their loss in the 1980 tiebreaker. It was the first time that team won a five-game series after losing the first two. The Expos meanwhile beat the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies in five games. The Expos were the only team that won the second-half title to win the Division Series.
The NLCS began at Dodger Stadium, with Burt Hooton starting for the Dodgers and Bill Gullickson getting the start for Montreal. The Dodgers got two runs in the second inning as Ron Cey had an RBI double and scored on a squeeze but by Bill Russell. Hooton tied up the Expos offense all game, in the eighth inning, the Dodgers added three more runs as Pedro Guererro hit a two-run homer while Mike Scioscia went back-to-back against an arm weary Jeff Reardon. Gary Carter and Larry Parrish led off the ninth with back-to-back doubles but the Dodgers escaped further trouble as Steve Howe got the final three batters for a final 5-1 win.
In Game 2, the Dodgers had Fernando Valenzuela on the mound against journeyman Ray Burris. Burris pitched a five-hit shutout as the Expos won 3-0. Montreal scored two runs off Valenzuela in the second as Warren Cromartie doubled home, Parrish. Later Tim Raines drove in a second run with a single. Gary Carter added an RBI single in the sixth as the Expos evened the series.
At Olympic Stadium, the Expos had Steve Rodgers on the mound, who won two games in the Division Series, while Jerry Reuss made the start for the Dodgers. Los Angeles scratched across a run in the fourth inning, the Expos bats awoke in the sixth inning. Larry Parrish started the rally with a single, while Jerry White hit a three-run homer to give Montreal a 4-1 lead. Rodgers would go the distance as the Expos won 4-1 to take the lead in the series.
Game 4 would see a rematch of the opener. Again Burt Hooton was strong as the Dodgers scored the game’s first run on a double by Dusty Baker in the third. The Expos tied the game on a single by Cromartie in the fourth. The game remained knotted 1-1 until the eighth inning when Steve Garvey hit a two-run shot to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead. The Dodgers broke the game open with four runs in the ninth to win 7-1 to send the series to a decisive fifth game.
Due to chilly wet weather, Game 5 was delayed one day, giving the winner no day off before starting the World Series in New York against the Yankees. Les Expos had Ray Burris on the mound against Fernando Valenzuela looking for a repeat of Game 2. Tim Raines led off the game with a double and later scored when Andre Dawson hit into a double play. It would be the only run that Valenzuela allowed as the Dodgers rookie phenom allowed only three hits. The Dodgers meanwhile scratched out a run in the fifth as the game went into the ninth inning tied 1-1. With Jeff Reardon unavailable, the Expos called upon their ace Steve Rodgers to get them to the World Series by starting the ninth. With one out Ron Cey hit one to the warning track, showing that Rodgers did not have his best stuff. One batter later Rick Monday came up and hit one over the center-field fence to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. Valenzuela got the first two outs in the ninth but walked Gary Carter and Larry Parrish, leading Tommy Lasorda to call on Bob Welch for the final out. Welch got Andre Dawson to groundout to second to end the game, sending the Dodgers to the World Series.