For the first time in almost 2 years, welcome back to the Jersey Guy for Montreal Baseball blog.
It has been tough to write about baseball over the past several months. With so many issues globally, the motivation has been hard to sit down and write. Sometimes, you just have to force yourself to get into a positive place and get into it. And how do you get into that frame of mind?
Watch some classic baseball.
I somehow always find my way to the Expos Classics YouTube page. During one of the browsing sessions, I came to a game that piqued my interest. It was a game between the New York Mets and Montreal Expos on May 2, 1987 - the third game of a four game series.
Shea Stadium was the platform for a lot of stories on this brisk Spring day. The reigning World Champion Mets were in the midst of a rough start in April, but turned it around for 6 wins out of their last 9 games. Also, Dwight Gooden was finally on the bench for his first series of the year, due to his first rehab stint for testing positive for cocaine in Spring Training. The losses of World Series MVP Ray Knight and Kevin Mitchell during the offseason to free agency and a trade respectively helped give the Blue-and-Orange Brigade a strong hangover in ‘87 from their dominant 1986.
Meanwhile in Montreal, there was one thing hanging over the Expos: COLLUSION.
And Tim Raines was front and center of it.
At the end of 1986, Tim Raines and Andre Dawson were the last pieces to the “Team of the 1980s” Expos ball clubs. Dawson and Raines, who were the best of friends, were both free agents. Dawson, thanks to wear-and-tear of his knees on playing the hard Astroturf outfield in Olympic Stadium for 10 seasons, wanted out of Montreal.
Raines had just come off the best season of his professional career. He had won the 1986 National League batting title with a .334 batting average. He also had 194 hits, 9 home runs, 62 RBIs, 35 doubles, 70 stolen bases, and a .413 OBP. With a career year, and the Expos going into a rebuild mode, Raines wanted to test the market for a big contract through free agency.
In 1985, newly appointed MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth had a meeting with MLB owners in St. Louis prior to the offseason. Annoyed with the entire free agent system, which began in 1975 after Marvin Miller helped overturn the “reserve clause”, Ueberroth had a strategy to help limit long term contracts and big money coming to ballplayers.
In that offseason, with 35 free agents on the market, only 4 changed teams. In 1986, it wasn’t much better. For “the Rock” and “the Hawk”, it was particularly difficult. Dawson wanted out of Montreal so badly that he walked into the Chicago Cubs Spring Training facility with a blank contract. Ultimately, Dawson signed for $500,000 for the 1987 season with incentives and made the absolute most of it, hitting .287 with 49 home runs, 137 RBIs, and 178 hits and became 1987 National League MVP. That contract was an absolute STEAL for the Cubbies.
Raines wasn’t as lucky. With no other teams offering a contract, Raines had to wait until May 1 to renegotiate with Montreal, getting a 3 year, $5 million contract. “The Rock” had no Spring Training, instead working out on his own, preparing his hitting technique and physique with independent trainers. By the time the Expos walked into Shea Stadium on Saturday afternoon, May 2, Raines was in the lineup, batting third.
Mind you, this game was NBC’s Game of the Week. This was a nationally broadcasted game. All eyes were on how the 1986 NL Batting Champ would perform in his first game of the season, with NO Spring Training nor minor league games to find his rhythm. This was a sink-or-swim moment for the Expos and “the Rock”, in particular.
What happened next became stuff of legend.
With two away in the top of the first inning, Raines stepped into the batter’s box against David Cone. In his rookie season, Cone was struggling to adapt early on into the rotation. Prior to the game, he was 0-2 with a 7.36 ERA. Cone was looking for a solid outing to gain confidence within himself and to provide some stability to a struggling Mets squad.
On the first pitch, Raines unleashed a strong swing, driving the ball down the right hand line, hitting the wall and bouncing back on right fielder Darryl Strawberry. Hustling the entire way, Raines rounded second and headed to third. The strong arm of Strawberry hurled a left handed throw, pulling third baseman Dave Magadan off the bag. Raines rolled into third standing with a triple.
The broadcast voice of Vin Scully summed up the feelings of the moment perfectly: “The reigning National League Batting Champion is back with a vengeance.”
Although Tim Wallach flew out to Strawberry two pitches later, a point was proven to not just the Expos, but Major League Baseball in particular.
“The Rock” was back.
In the top of the third, with one down, Raines came to bat again against Cone. After working the rookie to a 3-0 count, Raines took a strike and then fouled one off down the first base side on the following pitch, making it a full count. Cone then tried to paint the inside corner with a fastball, but it JUST missed, causing a one-out walk.
For David Cone, it was his second walk of the day. For Tim Raines, it was an opportunity to make an impact on the basepath.
Before Tim Wallach’s at-bat could even officially start, Cone tossed over to first baseman Keith Hernandez to keep Raines accountable. Two pitches later, “the Rock” took off. Cone threw a borderline pitch-out to catcher (and Expos legend) Gary Carter and “Kid” launched a bullet to second. Second baseman Tim Teufel caught the ball a little high, but brought the tag down. It was milliseconds too late. Raines was safe on a headfirst slide into second.
After Wallach flew out to Kevin McReynolds in left, first baseman Andrés Galarraga stepped up to bat. Working Cone to 2-2, Galarraga laced a single to left. Raines’ speed motored himself easily around third and into score.
Two plate appearances, a triple, a steal, and a run. If that was it for Raines on the day, it would have been an impressive return. However, the script was only out of Act 1.
Raines led off the top of the 5th. Cone worked the count to 2-1. On his next pitch, he threw it down Broadway. Raines laced it up the middle. Base hit?
NOPE. Second baseman Tim Teufel made a tremendous play, scooping the ball into his mitt with a backhand and threw a rocket to Hernandez at first, beating Raines by a step and getting the out.
Robbed of a sure-fire hit, Raines made his only out at the plate on this play.
In the next inning, “the Rock” was on with 2 away. On the mound was Terry Leach, who relieved Cone after 5 gritty innings of 8 hit, 3 run ball. In the previous at-bat, Mitch Webster laid down a suicide squeeze, with Tom Foley running in from third. Leach bobbled the ball coming off the mound and threw it to Hernandez at first. Webster beat it out, and Hernandez was livid. Mets manager Davey Johnson came out to argue the call, but to no avail.
With the Mets in a little tizzy and Leach blowing the lead with his error, Raines saw his opportunity to strike. Working the count to 2-1, the sidearm throwing Leach threw a pitch down Broadway. Raines hit it in-between the first and second base bags. Again, Teufel aimed to make a great play, diving for the ball. However, he JUST missed it, and Raines got on with his second hit of the day.
Tim Raines got a small measure of revenge on Tim Teufel.
In the top of the ninth, the Expos were down 6-4. The switch-hitting Raines led off, batting from the right side against southpaw Gene Walter. For the first time batting righty in the game, “the Rock” worked the count to 2-2. Walter lobbed his next pitch over the plate and Raines hit a ground ball to the shortstop Al Pedrique, who just enterd the game replacing third baseman Magadan (Howard Johnson moved from shortstop to third). Pedrique steadied and threw a routine ball to first. The ball sank at the last second, leaving Hernandez to catch it on a hop. As Hernandez gained control of the ball, Raines gave a last burst of speed to the bag.
SAFE AT FIRST.
With his third hit of the day and fourth time on base, Raines helped start the rally. After a pitching change by the Mets to righty Doug Sisk, Tim Wallach stepped up to the dish. Three pitches later, Wallach knocked a base hit up the middle. Raines never stopped running, quickly rounding second and headed into third standing. Two pitches later, Galarraga hit a hard bouncer to short, and Pedrique BARELY got the out at first. However, Raines easily scored standing, making it a 6-5 game. Two batters later, Wallach scored from second on an RBI single from Vance Law, tying the game at 6.
The incredible performance from Raines in the ninth closed out Act 2. The climax of the Rock’s day would culminate in Act 3.
In the top of the tenth inning, with the game knotted at six, Montreal was relegated to face the Mets’ best reliever, left hander Jesse Orosco. Orosco did get the final out in the top of the ninth for the Mets, but his task in the tenth was to keep the Expos at bay.
Orosco did not.
The Expos got three straight singles off the lefty, coming from the bats of Reid Nichols, Casey Candaele, and Herm Winningham. With the bases loaded, nobody out, and Orosco on his heels, up walked Raines.
From the right side of the plate, “the Rock” settled in. Orosco’s first pitch was a breaking ball outside for Ball 1. Raines reset himself and got into a crouched batting stance. Orosco then threw a fastball down Broadway. Raines connected. I mean, CONNECTED.
A high-fly ball traveled deep to left field. Left fielder Kevin McReynolds barely moved. The ball ended up midway in the Expos’ bullpen. Tim Raines just hit a grand slam.
The fans in Shea Stadium were absolutely deflated. The bench of the Montreal Expos were absolutely joyous. Nicholas, Candaele, and Winningham were waiting at home plate. Rounding second, Raines actually took his time, slowing down the home run trot for a few beats, taking it all in. Raines touched home plate and got high fives all around. The entire Expos bench were out in front of the dugout. Some players were even bowing. Raines got mobbed with high-fives and pats on the back.
Vin Scully put it best during Raines rounding the bases: “That has to be one of the most incredible stories of the year in ANY sport. First day back!”
The Expos tacked on one more in the inning, going up 11-6, and held on in the bottom of the tenth to win 11-7.
Tim Raines went 4-5 with a grand slam, a triple, three runs, four RBIs, a walk, and a stolen base. It was an all-around great performance. Add in the Collusion drama, not being able to resign with Montreal until May 1, no Spring Training, and playing in front of a national television audience, it became a story of legendary proportions. Raines, in a subtle yet aggressive way, stuck it to the owners of MLB and absolutely showcased himself as an instant impact player
Raines wound up going .330 with 175 hits, 34 doubles, 8 triples, 50 stolen bases, and 18 home runs (double from 1986) with 68 RBIs. Although the Expos finished with a 91-71 record, Raines’ return to the ballclub was a spark plug to the team, as they started the month of May with a 9-13 record. He also had the game winning hit in the 1987 All Star Game, knocking in two runs off a triple in the top of the 13th inning, giving him the All Star Game MVP.
As it came to the Collusion issues, a settlement was made between the MLB owners and the MLBPA. Raines reportedly made over $865,000 retroactively to his incident in 1987. The three separate Collusion incidents from the 1985, 1986, and 1987 offseasons set the foundation that led to the 1994 MLB Strike.
On his final year of eligibility on the ballot, Tim Raines was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017. He went in as a member of Montreal Expos. With the Expos moving to Washington DC in 2004, Raines’ inclusion into Cooperstown is the final piece of Montreal’s influence in the modern day MLB.
My infatuation of the Montreal Expos had led me to some classic players and moments. However, no story had quite the influence on me than the May 2, 1987 game in Shea Stadium. I don’t think you will ever see a player do what Tim Raines did on that day ever again, especially in this generation of Major League Baseball. It is a testament to “the Rock’s” work ethic and natural ability to pull off that type of feat.
In this writer’s opinion, Tim Raines on May 2, 1987 is the single greatest performance in baseball history.