You have heard the “Curse of the Bambino,” and the “Curse of the Goat,” but nothing can compare to the “Curse of What if,” which I also like to call “The Curse of the Youppi.”
While I am an avid New York Mets baseball fan, I am like many in the North Country who adopted the Montreal Expos as the unofficial home team. I always enjoyed heading to the Great White North to watch the Expos play, rooting for them when it was against anyone but the Metropolitans.
I remember well the summer of 1994. I can almost name the whole team. Todd Fletcher, Andres Gallaraga, Delino DeShields, Tim Wallach, Wil Cordero, Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker in the field to go with Jeff Fassero, Ken Hill, Kirk Rueter, Pedro Martinez and John Wettland.
The team was absolutely dominant. The best record in baseball and career years for several of the members of that team.
Then there was union dis-harmony, followed by revolt and the unthinkable, a lockout of the game in mid-August, the first time that a World Series would not be played for a reason other than World War. Heck, it was even played during some years of World War.
The fan base was devastated that they would not get a chance to prove themselves in the postseason, something that had not happened for the franchise since 1981. It was setting up to be the first all-international World Series in baseball, on paper, as the French-speaking, secession-seeking, Quebec’s own Expos would try and unseat the two-time defending English-speaking Toronto Blue Jays. Just think, tuning in for the National Pastime’s greatest games only to hear “Oh, Canada” before each first pitch?
The Expos would never get that chance. The 1994 roster was melted down into pieces after the strike, the fans never came back to the Big O, and the Expos became the Washington Nationals.
This year, however, there was hope again for the franchise. I, as many people who still have loyalties to the adage ELB — Everyone Loves Baseball — watched as the Nats compiled the best record in the game and finally headed to their first playoff series in 32 years.
Enter the curse.
Must be that Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo is not a student of history, or he would have known not to tempt with fate. How did he do so? By deciding that the best way to win a World Series was by sitting down the best pitcher the franchise has had since Pedro in Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg had everything that all the Expos greats on the mound possessed. The fireball of Randy Johnson. The changeup of Pedro. The passion of El Presidente (Dennis Martinez). Coming off of Tommy John surgery, though, Rizzo thought it was best to shut the phenom down after 160 or so innings pitched. In fact, the teamed pulled the plug on him early because in what would be his final start, he was so concerned about his season being shut down by no fault of his own that he was ineffective on the mound.
Through all of that, Rizzo appeared to be off the hook as the Nationals held a 6-0 lead against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series, on their way back to the LCS against the San Fransisco Giants. The perfect setting for a curse to rear its ugly head.
The Cardinals cut the lead to 6-2, then 6-4, then 6-5. The Expo-Nationals scored a run in the top of the ninth to make the score 7-5 and appeared set to celebrate. Twice they had the Cardinals down to their final strike of the game — one swing and miss and it was onto the NLCS. Four runs later, the Cardinals, not the Nats, were sending their hearts to San Fransisco. All because the GM decided his team did not need its best player in the biggest series in franchise history.
As far as I am concerned, Rizzo goes with the greats in the “Men Who Helped Sports Curses Live on Hall of Fame.” He joins Red Sox inductee Bill Buckner (who has since been forgiven — amazing what two rings can do) along with Bucky “Bleeping“ Dent and Aaron “Bleeping“ Boone of the Yankees; Cubs inductee Steve Bartman; and Bills inductee Scott Norwood (that’s for you, DJ).
But, don’t worry Expo-Nationals fans, there’s always next year. Unless the lack of use causes Strasburg to blow his arm out again...
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