“What, me worry?” was the famous catchphrase of Alfred E. Neuman, the gap-toothed boy who regularly graced the cover of Mad Magazine.1 The motto could also have been adopted by Montreal Expos rookie infielder Al D. Newman after his 19th-inning at-bat against the Houston Astros in a game that began on the evening of July 7, 1985. With two outs and runners on the corners, Newman – playing in his ninth major-league game, days after his 25th birthday – calmly laid down a bunt that brought home the eventual game-winning run just after midnight.2
The overachieving Expos had come into the game in second place in the National League East Division with a 45-35 record, 1½ games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. Expectations were low for the 1985 Expos,3 who had traded future Hall of Famer Gary Carter to the New York Mets in December 1984 after a disappointing 78-83 season.4 Montreal had swapped quality for quantity in a four-for-one deal that was lopsided in New York’s favor.5 But career years from several Expos kept the team competitive in 1985.6
The oft-injured David Palmer got the start for Montreal.7 Almost seven years after his major-league debut, 129⅔ innings was the most that the 27-year-old right-hander had ever pitched in a big-league season.8 Palmer’s 6-7 record belied a solid 2.79 ERA; in his seven losses, the Expos had scored only six runs.
Houston began the day in fourth place in the NL West with a 41-39 record, 5½ games back of the first-place San Diego Padres. Although the Astros had been treading water for the first half of the season, they had assembled many of the building blocks that put them on the cusp of earning a World Series berth in 1986. Mike Scott was starting to have some success throwing his new pitch, the split-finger fastball, and first baseman Glenn Davis had been called up from Triple A in the middle of June. But neither player was firing on all cylinders just yet.9
Joe Niekro drew the starting assignment for Houston. The 40-year-old knuckleballer was in his 19th big-league season and his 11th with the Astros.10 Niekro (7-7, 3.07 ERA) had won his last four starts, including his 200th career win five days earlier in San Diego.
One of the players the Expos acquired in the Carter trade, catcher Mike Fitzgerald, opened the scoring in the top of the second inning. Fitzgerald, batting .192, broke out of a 0-for-12 drought with a two-out single off Niekro to score a pair of runs.
In the bottom of the sixth, Niekro helped his own cause with a two-out RBI single off Palmer, tying the score, 2-2.
The Expos nearly broke the deadlock in the top of the eighth. With one out and runners on second and third, Niekro — whose knuckleball moved away from left-handed batters — intentionally walked Andre Dawson to get to the lefty Dan Driessen. The move paid off, as Driessen hit into an inning-ending double play.
Both starting pitchers were lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, kicking off a lengthy battle of the bullpens.
Houston almost won the game in the 13th. With one out and a runner on third base, Expos manager Buck Rodgers had reliever Randy St. Claire intentionally walk Mark Bailey and Craig Reynolds to load the bases. Rodgers looked like a genius when pinch-hitter Phil Garner grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play, made possible by first baseman Terry Francona’s acrobatic stretch to corral the off-line relay from Newman at second.12
Newman opened the 18th inning with an opposite-field bloop double. Three batters later Francona hit a groundball single up the middle, and the speedy Newman raced home with the go-ahead run.
Floyd Youmans, sarcastically dubbed “the fourth warm body in the Gary Carter trade” by the Montreal Gazette,13 returned to the mound for his second inning of work in an attempt to nail down the victory. But Youmans, who had been called up from Double A to make his major-league debut just six days earlier, couldn’t close it out in the 18th.14 With two outs and runners on first and second, Doran came through with a clutch RBI single, and the game was tied, 3-3.
In the top of the 19th, Vance Law was on third and Dawson was on first when Newman came to the plate with two out. He had made his big-league debut on June 14 and was hitting just .133 when he dug in against reliever Ron Mathis, Houston’s sixth pitcher of the game.
Newman did the unexpected – he bunted with two out. Third baseman Denny Walling made a good play fielding the ball, but first baseman Enos Cabell dropped his low throw for an error,15 and Law crossed the plate with the go-ahead run. “I did the same thing a couple of times in the minors and our third-base coach Rick Renick was also there,” Newman explained. “Our eyes met and he knew I was going to bunt, so I guess he told Vance [Law].”16
After Mitch Webster walked, Fitzgerald drove in two insurance runs with a single, giving him four RBIs in the game.
Youmans retired the side in order in the bottom of the 19th to earn his first major-league victory. It was a bittersweet moment for Youmans, as the 21-year-old was demoted to Triple A after the game for more seasoning.17
The teams used all of their position players in the game with the exception of Montreal’s backup catcher, Sal Butera.18 It did not go unnoticed in the Montreal clubhouse, and Butera was chided for taking the night off. “Some night off,” he responded. “I went to the bat rack three times to get ready to pinch hit and I warmed up nine pitchers.”19
As of the start of the 2022 season, the game was the third longest in Expos/Nationals franchise history. The longest was the madcap 22-inning affair in 1989 that included the ejection of Youppi!, the popular Expos mascot whose antics got under the skin of Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.20
The game was the fifth longest in Astros history as of the start of the 2022 season. The longest was a 24-inning contest against the New York Mets on April 15, 1968, won by Houston, 1-0.
The heartbreaking 19-inning loss appeared to be a momentum changer for the Astros, who dropped 14 of their next 17 games to fall out of the pennant race. Lowlights of their skid included a failure to score in 42 consecutive innings on July 13-20, and a July 27 loss to the Mets in which they allowed 16 unearned runs.21
But better times were just around the corner for the Astros. They went 20-3 from August 27 to September 19, boosting their record back over the .500 mark.22 Davis hit .310 with 7 homers and 22 RBIs during Houston’s hot streak, flashing the power and run-producing prowess that earned him a Silver Slugger Award and a second-place finish in National League MVP voting in 1986.23
The win gave Montreal a split in the four-game series with the Astros and an 8-2 record in extra-inning games. The plucky Expos hung around the pennant race until a costly five-game losing streak August 19-23 brought them crashing down to earth. They ended the season with a creditable 84-77 record, still a distant 16½ games behind the eventual NL champion Cardinals.
Less than two weeks after Newman’s 19th-inning bunt, he was demoted to Triple A. The Expos called him back up in September and he remained with the team for the entire 1986 season as a utility infielder.
After learning that the Expos were planning on using him in a backup role in Triple A the following season, Newman asked to be traded. The Expos honored that request in February 1987, and he was dealt to the Minnesota Twins for a minor-league pitcher.24 In 214 career at-bats with Montreal, he hit .196 with one homer, 9 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases.
Newman spent the next five seasons as a super-sub with the Twins, helping them win the World Series in 1987 and 1991. He wrapped up his eight-year career in the big leagues with the Texas Rangers in 1992.
Newman is perhaps best known for teaming up with Gary Gaetti and Kent Hrbek for two nearly identical 5-4-3 triple plays in a 1990 game against the Boston Red Sox. As of the start of the 2022 season, it was the only time a team turned two triple plays in the same game in the American, National, or Federal Leagues.
Not surprisingly, Newman was eventually given the nickname “What, me worry?” by ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman. “But I didn’t know the name referred to the Mad Magazine guy right away,” admitted Newman. “I just figured it was because I’m smiling all the time.”25
This article was fact-checked by Kurt Blumenau and copy-edited by Len Levin.
Sources and photo credit
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and the Baseball Player Contract Cards Collection from The Sporting News. Unless otherwise noted, all play-by-play information for this game was taken from the article “Expos Beat Astros in 19th Inning” on page D-1 of the July 8, 1985, edition of the Montreal Gazette.
Image of Al Newman’s 1986 Montreal Expos Postcard downloaded from the Trading Card Database.
1 The satirical Mad Magazine was published from 1952 until 2019. At its peak in the early 1970s, Mad Magazine had a circulation of more than two million copies. Jon Blistein, “‘Mad Magazine’ Is Effectively Shutting Down,” Rolling Stone, July 5, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/mad-magazine-shutting-down-855767/, accessed July 27, 2022; Neda Ulaby, “Satirical Staple ‘Mad’ to Exit Newsstands and Recycle Its Classic Material,” National Public Radio, https://www.npr.org/2019/07/04/738767035/satirical-staple-mad-to-exit-newsstands-and-recycle-its-classic-material, accessed July 27, 2022.
2 The game began on Sunday at 7:05 P.M. It lasted 5 hours and 12 minutes. The Philadelphia Phillies, who played a home game that afternoon, made it to their hotel in Houston before the end of the Expos-Astros game. Philadelphia and Houston opened a three-game series at the Astrodome on July 8. In his major-league debut that night, Mark Knudson staggered through seven innings to give the Astros bullpen a bit of a breather. He gave up seven earned runs in a 7-4 loss. Montreal flew to Atlanta after the 19-inning game for a three-game series against the Braves July 8-10. Not surprisingly, the exhausted Expos lost the series opener, 7-1. Bill Conlin, “Phils Flog Tired Astros,” Philadelphia Daily News, July 9, 1985: 76.
3 Sports Illustrated ranked Montreal 21st out of the 26 major-league teams at the start of the 1985 season. Sandy Keenan, “21 Montreal Expos,” Sports Illustrated, https://vault.si.com/vault/1985/04/15/21-montreal-expos, accessed July 28, 2022.
4 After narrowly missing the playoffs in 1979 and 1980, the Expos came within one game of reaching the World Series in 1981. Expos fans were disappointed again when the team failed to make the playoffs in 1982 and 1983. But in 1984 the Expos finished below .500 for the first time in six years and attendance fell by 31 percent, resulting in a significant financial shortfall. Montreal owner Charles Bronfman was frustrated that the team hadn’t lived up to expectations, and he was particularly unhappy to be paying Gary Carter roughly $2 million per season. Jonah Keri, Up, Up & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2014), 206-09.
5 The Mets sent shortstop Hubie Brooks, catcher Mike Fitzgerald, outfielder Herm Winningham, and minor-league pitcher Floyd Youmans to Montreal in return for Carter. Carter helped lead the Mets to the 1986 World Series championship, and he finished third in National League MVP voting that season. He made the All-Star team four times and won two Silver Slugger Awards during his five seasons in New York. Carter became co-captain of the Mets in 1987. Brooks, the most productive of the four players acquired by the Expos, had three good seasons for Montreal. He was named to the All-Star team twice and won two Silver Slugger Awards in his five seasons with the Expos. Youmans went 29-29 with a 3.57 ERA in four seasons with Montreal. In his seven seasons with the Expos, Fitzgerald accumulated only 2.0 Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (bWAR). Winningham was below replacement level (-0.8 bWAR) in his four seasons with Montreal. Rory Costello, “Gary Carter,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/gary-carter/, accessed August 2, 2022.
7 Palmer did not pitch for the Expos in 1981 and 1983 because of elbow injuries. He was regularly on the disabled list during his career. Norm King, “David Palmer,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/david-palmer/, accessed July 28, 2022.
8 Palmer’s right shoulder began hurting around the time of this game, and he was shelled in his next three starts, resulting in his demotion to the bullpen. He went on the disabled list on August 10. Palmer returned to action on September 14 and managed to throw 135⅔ innings in 1985. He broke the 130-inning mark in only 3 of his 10 big-league seasons. “Palmer’s Pitching Future on Line,” Montreal Gazette, September 12, 1985: E-2.
9 Davis came into the game hitting .224 with 2 homers and 5 RBIs in 58 at-bats. Although he had made his major-league debut in September 1984, he didn’t lose his rookie status until 1985. Scott had a record of 7-4 and a 3.01 ERA coming into this game. He went 18-10 in 1986 with a major-league-leading 2.22 ERA. Scott won the 1986 NL Cy Young Award.
10 This was his final season in Houston. The Astros traded Niekro to the New York Yankees on September 15, 1985, for 25-year-old hurler Jim Deshaies and two minor leaguers. Deshaies helped the Astros to the NL West title in 1986, going 12-5 with a 3.25 ERA. He finished seventh in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
11 Doran had reached on an infield single and advanced to third on a pair of groundouts. Cruz came into the game batting .317, third best in the National League.
12 Newman had entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch-runner for Tim Wallach. Peter Hadekel, “Expos Consider Placing Reardon on Injured List,” Montreal Gazette, July 9, 1985: F-3.
13 Brian Kappler, “Expos Close In on Cardinals,” Montreal Gazette, July 2, 1985: C-1.
14 Kappler, “Expos Close In on Cardinals.
15 Associated Press, “Expos Defeat Astros in 19th Inning,” Austin American-Statesman, July 8, 1985: D-1.
16 Associated Press, “Expos Defeat Astros in 19th Inning.”
17 Youmans was expected to stay with the Expos for about a week. He was sent down to Triple A so closer Jeff Reardon could be activated from the disabled list on July 8. He made 11 more starts for the Expos in 1985 after being recalled on August 12. Youmans finished the season with a 2.45 ERA in 77 innings pitched. Kappler, “Expos Close In on Cardinals.”
18 Harry Shattuck, “Expos Score in 19th to Subdue Astros,” Houston Chronicle, July 8, 1985: 23.
19 Hadekel, “Expos Consider Placing Reardon on Injured List.”
20 As of 1985, the longest game in Expos history was the 21-inning contest on May 21, 1977, against the San Diego Padres at the newly opened Olympic Stadium.
21 The 42 scoreless innings were over an eight-day period because of the All-Star break. Expos pitchers were responsible for 26 of the 42 consecutive scoreless innings. The Montreal hurlers were Bryn Smith (9 innings), Bill Gullickson (8), Joe Hesketh (8⅔), and Jeff Reardon (⅓). The streak was broken on July 20 when Jerry Mumphrey hit an RBI single off Gullickson in the ninth inning of a 6-1 Montreal win.
22 Houston finished in third place with an 83-79 record.
24 The minor-league pitcher was reliever Mike Shade. He never appeared in the big leagues.
25 Chris Ello, “Albert D. Newman: He Wants to Make a Name for Himself,” Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1987: 41.