August 12, 1980: Expos turn a triple play vs. lowly Cardinals
The baseball season is long enough that on any given day, a team like the 1962 New York Mets can channel the power of the 1927 Yankees. And when the lousy team lays it on the good one, the sweetest revenge is a shutout win the next night, with a triple play thrown in for good measure. Such was the scenario on August 12, 1980, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
The Expos were in a dogfight with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the National League East Division lead with a 63-49 record, while the Cardinals were mired in fifth place with a 49-60 mark.The Expos could be forgiven if they thought they had played the St. Louis Cardinals football team the previous night because they lost by more than two touchdowns, 16-0. They were embarrassed and they wanted revenge. Besides, the loss left them one game behind the Pirates; every victory was essential and they could ill afford to lose to bad teams.
The opposing pitchers in the August 12 game were Fred Norman for the Expos and John Fulgham for the Cardinals. Both were winding down their major-league careers; the difference was that Norman had pitched for 16 years and had two World Series rings, while Fulgham was in the second year of his two-year stay in the majors.1This was a rare start for Norman (he appeared in 48 games during the season but started only eight), who had signed with the Expos as a free agent after the 1979 season. He had a 2-2 record going into the game.
The first three innings were scoreless, as both pitchers started well. The first hit didn’t come until the bottom of the third inning, when Cardinals second baseman Ken Oberkfell singled. He was sacrificed to second by Fulgham but was thrown out trying to steal third, completing an inning-ending strikeout-throw-out double play that started when Norman struck out center fielder Tony Scott.
National League catchers didn’t sleep well when they had to face Montreal during the 1980 season, as the Expos had two of the top four basestealers in the league at the top of the lineup. Leadoff hitter Ron LeFlore led the league with 97 stolen bases, while number-two hitter Rodney Scott was second with 63. Not surprisingly, thievery figured in the Expos’ first run, but this time right fielder Ellis Valentine was the villain. He led off the fourth inning with a single, stole second, and scored on a double to left by catcher Gary Carter. (The Expos stole four bases in the game; Leflore had two and Valentine and Scott one each.)
The Cardinals tried to get that run back and more in the bottom of the inning and had the makings of a rally when the first two batters, first baseman Keith Hernandez and catcher Ted Simmons, singled to left. Right fielder George Hendrick was the next batter and he hit a line shot right at Expos third baseman Larry Parrish. Parrish snagged the liner to get Hendrick, then threw to Scott to double off Hernandez. Scott relayed to first baseman Warren Cromartie to triple off Simmons. It was the first triple play in the National League that season and the first committed against the Cardinals since June 25, 1969. The Expos had turned that one as well — the first in franchise history (this triple play was the fifth).
The triple play took the steam out of the Cardinals, even though they were down by only one. They went down in order in the fifth and sixth. In the seventh, Norman hit Hernandez with a pitch and gave up a single to Simmons to start the inning, but again the Cardinals couldn’t do anything with the opportunity as Expos pitchers Elias Sosa and WoodieFryman retired the next three batters in order.
For a pitcher with a brief major-league career, Fulgham acquitted himself well in this game. He pitched eight innings, giving up only four hits and the one run. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog sent Tom Herr to pinch-hit for Fulgham in the eighth — Herr popped out to first — and so was forced to go to his bullpen in the ninth. The Expos took full advantage.
Veteran Jim Kaat took the mound and gave up a double to Cromartie. Herzog didn’t like what he saw and yanked Kaat for John Littlefield. Carter then singled to third, and both runners scored on a Parrish double to left-center. After Parrish moved to third on a single by shortstop Chris Speier, Herzog brought in his third pitcher of the inning, John Urrea, who was in a heap of trouble with two on and nobody out. Urrea may have hastened the trade that sent him to the San Diego Padres by giving up an RBI single to Fryman, a hit that doubled Woodie’s hit and RBI totals for the season. Urrea got the next three batters out to end the inning. The Cardinals went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth to give the Expos their win.
The victory brought the Expos back into a first-place tie with the Pirates, but it didn’t give them the momentum they needed to pull away down the stretch. They lost their next four in a row, including three straight to Pittsburgh. They stayed in the race until the end of the season, but the Bucs faded after that. After winning their third straight against the Expos (a 5-1 win in which Norman was the losing pitcher), Pittsburgh plummeted, going 16-29 the rest of the way. The Phillies, meanwhile, got scorching hot and came back to take the division crown over Montreal on an 11th-inning home run by Mike Schmidt in the second-to-last game of the season.
This article appeared in “Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos” (SABR, 2016), edited by Norm King. To read more articles from this book, click here.
In addition to the sources listed in the notes, the author consulted:
Box scores for this game can be found on baseball-reference.com, and retrosheet.org at:
1Fulgham pitched in his last major-league game August 27, then spent two more years in the minors. He compiled a respectable 14-12 lifetime record with the St. Louis Cardinals.