Monday, a lefty, was batting in the top of the ninth inning with two outs in a tie game with the 1981 National League Championship Series hanging in the balance. When he stepped into the batter’s box, he thought about a home run. On that first pitch, he saw the fastball he wanted. He fouled it off. The Montreal Expos’ reliever, right-hander Steve Rogers, dodged a bullet, but Monday worked the count to 3-and-1.
Rogers intended the next pitch to be a sinker down and away. Instead, it caught the heart of the plate. It surprised Monday. Unlike the first-pitch foul, Monday found his stroke, shocked the Expos, and propelled the Dodgers to the 1981 World Series. To this day, Montreal fans call this game “Blue Monday.”2
The two teams split the first two games of the series in Los Angeles, then traded late-inning wins in Montreal.3 Now, on October 19, a cold and wet afternoon greeted the Dodgers and Expos in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium to decide the pennant.
Rick Monday was nearing the end of his 16th major-league season at age 35. He had spent the majority of the last five years as a platoon player for the Dodgers and was thinking about retiring after the season and pursuing a broadcasting career.4 For the first three games of the NLCS, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had started right-hand-hitting Pedro Guerrero in right field against the Expos’ three right-handed starters. In Games Four and Five, Monday started in right field and Guerrero moved to center.
The first four games all drew over 50,000 fans. Both games Montreal hosted outdrew the two played in Los Angeles, but only 36,491 fans showed up for the final match. The crowd size suffered from the damp 41-degree weather and the game being moved to a Monday afternoon, a workday.5 The rain even delayed the start of the game by 26 minutes.6
Right-hander Ray Burris started for the Expos, while 20-year-old rookie lefty sensation Fernando Valenzuela took the mound for the Dodgers. Second baseman Davey Lopes began the game with a foul pop to catcher Gary Carter. Shortstop Bill Russell tripled to right field but left fielder Dusty Baker grounded out to third base, followed by a tapper to the mound by first baseman Steve Garvey.7
The Expos fared better in their opening frame. After breaking his hand in mid-September, rookie left fielder Tim Raines returned to the lineup in the postseason. He led off for the Expos by launching a double to center. Second baseman Rodney Scott beat out a bunt that put runners on the corners. If center fielder Andre Dawson, second in the NL in home runs and total bases in ’81, had gotten any hit, the Expos would likely have had a big inning. Instead, he grounded into a double play. Raines scored, and Carter flied to left field to end the inning.
Valenzuela needed only 13 pitches to dispose of the six batters he faced in the second and third innings. In the Dodgers’ second, Burris walked third baseman Ron Cey. After Monday struck out, Guerrero grounded to shortstop Chris Speier for a double play. Burris then matched his mound opponent with a perfect third inning.
The Dodgers tied the game at 1-1 in the fifth inning. Monday and Guerrero hit back-to-back singles, with Monday taking third on the hit-and-run. After a line out by catcher Mike Scioscia, Monday scored on Valenzuela’s groundout. Speier’s error on Lopes’ grounder kept the threat alive, but Russell’s groundout to Speier ended the inning.
Monday, Guerrero, and Scioscia flied out to Dawson in center in the Dodgers’ seventh. The Expos mounted a mild threat to break the tie in their half. Third baseman Larry Parrish hit a two-out double to left. But after an intentional walk to Jerry White, first baseman Warren Cromartie fouled out to Scioscia.
Burris ran into slight trouble in the Dodger eighth. Lopes hit a one-out infield single to Speier and stole second. He attempted to take third on Russell’s grounder to shortstop but was tagged out in a rundown. Baker then ended the inning with a weak groundball to Cromartie.
Burris pitched well, going eight innings and giving up only one run, on five hits and a walk. It was time for him to yield to a pinch-hitter. Jim Fanning, leading the Expos as the interim manager after Dick Williams was fired in September, sent rookie Tim Wallach to hit for Burris after Speier flied out to center.8 Wallach tapped out to the pitcher, followed by Raines’s fly out to center.
Through eight innings, Valenzuela pitched even better than Burris, giving up just a run and three hits. He retired 20 of 21 batters between the first and seventh innings.
To pitch the ninth inning, Fanning had a choice between his ace starter, Rogers, or his closer, Jeff Reardon. Reardon suffered from a recent arm issue but was available.9 Instead, Fanning chose Rogers. Fanning said, “… I went with Rogers because he was mentally ready and because he’s our acknowledged ace. He usually has excellent stuff on his in-between days.”10
Rogers had pitched brilliantly in the playoffs, winning three starts. He twice beat the Philadelphia Phillies’ ace Steve Carlton in the NL Division Series, including a shutout with a 0.51 ERA over 17⅔ innings. He followed that by defeating the Dodgers in Game 3 with a complete-game 4-1 effort.11 But now he was called on to relieve for only the third time in his career, on two days’ rest, in a cold and damp mist.
Garvey popped out to Scott on Rogers’ first pitch. Cey provided a scare on a 3-and-1 count by driving the ball to Raines at the base of the left-field wall.
Monday, who had scored the Dodgers’ only run, stepped to the plate. “I wanted a ball I could handle,” he said, “something I could get my bat on.”12 Rogers started him off with the exact pitch, which he fouled back. “I was surprised it was a fastball,” Monday said. “… [A]nd it was about belt high, over the middle of the plate.”13 “You won’t see another one like that to hit,” he thought.14
Three pitches later, the count was 3-and-1. Rogers explained, “I knew the count was 3-and-1 on Monday but I wanted to put the ball low and away. … I didn’t make the pitch.”15
After Monday connected, he did not see the ball in the mist. “When I hit it, I did not know where it had gone until I saw the outfielders at the wall.”18 He watched Dawson and White track the ball to the right-center-field fence. When he saw Dawson run out of room, he punched the air enthusiastically as he neared second base. The Dodgers bench erupted, spilling out of the dugout to greet Monday at home plate. The dramatic home run gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth.
Valenzuela quickly got Scott to ground out to first base and Dawson to fly out to right. He worked full counts to both Carter and Parrish before walking them. With the tying and winning runs on base, the Expos stood an extra-base hit away from going to the World Series.
After 113 pitches, Lasorda relieved a tiring Valenzuela because he “was trying to be too fine. Also, we wanted to get White to swing from the left side against [Bob] Welch. He’s a better hitter from the right side.”19 It only took one fastball from the right-handed Welch to get White to bounce out harmlessly to Lopes.
Monday’s home run stunned the Expos. No one expected anyone to clear the fences on a cold, wet day, especially Monday, who said, “I remember saying to myself [the] ball’s not going to leave this ballpark today.”20 Mixed emotions filled him as he rounded the bases. Monday recalled, “[I]t flashed through my mind that I have a big decision to make when the World Series is over, whether to play ball or go into broadcasting.”21
The pennant provided him with six games against the New York Yankees to think it over.
Monday played in five World Series games in 1981, contributing a double to the Dodgers’ tiebreaking seventh-inning rally in Game Four as Los Angeles won its first World Series championship since 1965. He continued to play a part-time role in Los Angeles, retiring in 1984 at age 38 and beginning a long career in broadcasting a year later.22
Monday could stake a claim to three historic moments. First, he became the number-one pick in the major leagues’ inaugural amateur draft in 1965. During the Bicentennial in 1976, he rescued an American flag from two firebugs to win the hearts of a nation. Now, his thrilling home run drove the Dodger Blue to the World Series and crushed the hearts of another nation. He still haunts the Expos, ending their first and only appearance in the postseason.23
This article was fact-checked by Gary Belleville and copy-edited by Len Levin. Kurt Blumenau and John Fredland reviewed an earlier draft of the article.
Photo credit: Trading Card Database.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for pertinent information, including the box score and play-by-play.
1 David Leon Moore, “Dodgers’ Monday Leaves the Expos Feeling Blue, 2-1,” San Bernardino County (California) Sun, October 20, 1981: 46.
2 Sean Farrell (Associated Press), “Blue Monday Harsh Memory,” Indiana (Pennsylvania) Gazette, October 5, 2004: 15.
3 In Game Three, light-hitting Expo Jerry White broke a sixth-inning tie with an unlikely three-run homer for a 4-1 win. Montreal and Los Angeles were tied 1-1 in the eighth inning of Game Four before the Dodgers broke the game open with two eighth inning runs and four more in the ninth.
4 Hal Bock (Associated Press), “Retirement Decision Hard after Big Homer,” Iola (Kansas) Register, October 20, 1981: 10.
5 Moore, “Dodgers’ Monday Leaves the Expos Feeling Blue, 2-1.” Associated Press, “Expos Stick Themselves as Phillies Edge Out Win,” Indiana (Pennsylvania) Gazette, April 21, 1987: 16. The original plan was for Olympic Stadium to have a retractable Kevlar roof. If it were in place, the game could have been played indoors. Instead, the roof was not completed until years later; the first game played indoors was on April 20, 1987.
6 United Press International, “Monday Homers LA into World Series,” Galveston (Texas) Daily News, October 20, 1981: 11.
7 Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Ron Cey began play as a starting quartet in 1973. Their 8½ years as an infield is the major-league record for the longest time playing together at their respective positions. Their run ended after the sixth game of the 1981 World Series when the Dodgers traded Lopes to the Oakland Athletics for Lance Hudson on February 8, 1982.
8 The Expos fired Dick Williams on September 8 and replaced him with Fanning, who had been vice president of scouting and player development for the team since 1977.
9 Even if Reardon was healthy, Rogers was the better choice. The Expos acquired Reardon in late May. He posted a stellar FIP and WHIP, and 6 saves. But he was still a year away from averaging 31 saves over the next 11 seasons.
10 David Leon Moore, “Dodgers’ Monday Leaves the Expos Feeling Blue, 2-1.”
11 Rogers posted staggering numbers after the strike ended on July 31. In nine starts before the playoffs, he held opponents to a slash line of .196/.245/.261, an ERA of 1.96, and a WHIP of 0.933. Without him, it is likely the Expos would not make the playoffs.
12 Associated Press, “Monday Hero for Dodgers in Pennant Win,” Paris (Texas) News, October 20, 1981: 10.
13 David Leon Moore, “Dodgers’ Monday Leaves the Expos Feeling Blue, 2-1.”
14 Hal Bock (Associated Press), “Monday Considers Broadcasting Job,” Chillicothe (Missouri) Constitution-Tribune, October 20, 1981: 3.
15 United Press International, “Rookie, Veteran Lift LA,” Salina (Kansas) Journal, October 20, 1981: 9.
16 Moore, “Dodgers’ Monday Leaves the Expos Feeling Blue, 2-1.”
17 Associated Press, “For Rogers, a Smile and Frown,” Santa Cruz (California) Sentinel, October 20, 1981: 8.
18 United Press International, “It’s Yankees vs. Dodgers—Again,” Logansport (Indiana) Pharos-Tribune, October 20, 1981: 8.
19 Moore, “Dodgers’ Monday Leaves the Expos Feeling Blue, 2-1.” Career-wise, White hit better left-handed (.269) than right-handed (.214). Lasorda might have been relying on his recent numbers for 1981: hitting .197 left-handed and .250 right-handed.
21 Milton Richman (United Press International), “Home Run May Change Hero’s Plans,” Galveston (Texas) Daily News, October 20, 1981: 8.
22 Monday was a sports anchor, pregame host, and cable TV announcer for the Dodgers from 1985 to 1988. He then called games for the San Diego Padres from 1989 to 1992. He returned to the Dodgers in 1993 and did radio play-by-play for over 30 years.
23 Another strike season, 1994, cost the Expos their second chance at the postseason. When the players went on strike on August 12, Montreal had the best record in baseball at 74-40. This event began a spiral by the franchise that eventually led to its relocation to Washington in 2005.