Expos Win Finale as Future in Doubt
Sep. 29, 2002
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MONTREAL (AP) _ If this was the end of the Montreal Expos, call it a fond farewell. There was live music in the lobby. The scoreboard showed grainy highlights of the team's first game in 1969. And the fans cheered wildly for star slugger Vladimir Guerrero, who fell one home run short of a 40-40 season.
Lines formed at ticket windows an hour before the game, and a crowd of 25,178 _ the third-largest at Olympic Stadium this season _ watched the Expos beat the Cincinnati Reds 7-2 Sunday in what might be their final game in Montreal.
``I have no idea what's going to happen, but I feel really good about the way I've been treated by the fans all these years here,'' Guerrero said through a translator.
The only time the fans showed frustration came in the eighth inning, after Guerrero was called out on a check swing in his final at-bat.
Plastic bottles, paper cups and a baseball were thrown onto the field. The Reds came off and waited out a six-minute delay in their dugout.
Born in 1969, the Expos are now owned by the other 29 major league clubs. This offseason they could become the first franchise to move since the expansion Senators left Washington following the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers.
Washington, Portland, Ore., and Puerto Rico have been mentioned as possible destinations.
``I think anywhere we can call home is a bonus,'' said Brad Wilkerson, who set an Expos rookie record with 20 homers this season. ``It's really unfair for us because we can't be sure any place is ours. I think everybody in here would like to play in the States.''
If the Expos go, it won't be without leaving some lasting memories. There's more baseball history in this hockey town than most people realize.
Jackie Robinson played minor league ball here. Pete Rose got his 4,000th hit. And Maury Wills was the first batter in franchise history.
Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines. Rusty Staub _ Le Grand Orange _ and Jarry Park.
Rick Monday's ninth-inning home run off Steve Rogers to send the Dodgers to the 1981 World Series.
The 1982 All-Star game before a packed house at Olympic Stadium, with four Expos in the starting lineup for the National League.
The first foreign team in the majors gave baseball a bit of French flair.
``I remember the good old days,'' said former infielder Ron Hunt, who played in the Old Timers' game Saturday. ``Any time that a franchise can't make it, it hurts the game _ no matter who it is.''
Mark Monninger and Kim Bean took a flight from California early Sunday morning to make sure they got to see the Expos play in Montreal.
``They all come out for the first game and the last game, but 7,000 fans a night in between is not enough to keep them going,'' Monninger said.
Fans were allowed on the field to get autographs from the Old Timers before the game. Outside the stadium entrance, people signed petitions to keep the team in Montreal.
The Expos brought back their original organist, Fernand Lapierre. He played from a spot in the stands about halfway up the first-base line.
A sign read `Grand Vente,' meaning `Big Sale' at the Expos Boutique, where they sell Guerrero mouse pads and Expos pennants with 1969-2002 printed beneath the logo.
Yet some fans are sure the team will be back.
``They've been saying that for three or four years now. That's why I never give up,'' said Allan Mansell, who attends every home game and sits in the back row of the bleachers with his Expos cowboy hat. ``I know they're going to be here at least one more year.''
A walkup crowd of 7,000 _ some even sat in the upper deck, which is usually closed off _ pushed Montreal over the 10,000 mark in average attendance this year, better than the Florida Marlins.
When Guerrero went back out to right field in the ninth, he brought his 3-year-old son with him. They both tipped their caps to a standing ovation and chants of MVP! MVP!''
Guerrero came out of the game with two outs in the ninth to another big cheer and tossed his cap into the stands.
After the final out, fireworks came shooting out of the scoreboard and Expos players hugged as they milled around on the field. Some threw baseballs into the stands as souvenirs, and manager Frank Robinson grabbed a microphone.
``We really enjoyed playing up here,'' he said. ``No matter what size the crowd, you were always enthusiastic and we fed off your support.''