As the Washington Nationals are getting ready for their first playoff appearance since moving to Washington later today, what better way to prepare than to take a look back at the first playoff series in franchise history believe it or not, 31 years ago today – the same day the Nationals take the field in Game One of the 2012 NLDS.
While the 1981 Montreal Expos are best remembered for Blue Monday and their Game 5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, they did play in the first NLDS against the first half winners from Philadelphia.
Going into the series, a lot of the talk was about Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt leading the defending World Series champions into Montreal. However, it would be All-Star game MVP Gary Carter and Expos starter Steve Rogers that would steal the show.
Twice, in game one and the deciding game five, Rogers would go toe-to-toe with Carlton. Both times Rogers would prevail. In game one, he pitched 8.2 innings, allowing one run on 10 hits. Jeff Reardon would get the save. In game five, Rogers was even more important. He pitched a complete-game six-hit shutout, walking only one and on top of that, drove in the winning runs with a bases loaded single in the fifth inning off of Carlton.
Unfortunately, Rogers would be better known for the Monday homerun with him coming out of the bullpen then remembered for beating the future hall-of-famer twice in two games. It was Rogers’ coming out party and probably the best sequence of his career which was spent entirely with the Montreal Expos since he came up as a stellar rookie in 1973. He is undoubtedly the best player in franchise history who played his entire career with Montreal. The Nationals no doubt hope that he is surpassed by several players on the current 2012 team, namely Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Even two of those three would suffice, I’m sure.
The series wasn’t easy, if the five games didn’t give it away prior to that. After the Expos won game two on the back of Bill Gullickson, the Phillies roared back at Veterans Stadium with a win in game three and an extra innings win to force the deciding game five.
Gary Carter had two homeruns in the series to lead all players.
So, while we remember the Expos first NLDS, we get set for the Nationals make their own history and it may be a good time to write a new ending.