Pardon our French, but ‘Bleu Monday,’ even 31 years later, still resonates

Rick Monday hit the ball, but couldn’t see where it went.

Vin Scully doesn’t recall seeing it all that well either. But then, he didn’t think he’d be there to watch the game in the first place.

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On Oct. 19, 1981, Game 5 of the National League Championship Series became a moment frozen in Dodger history – in more ways than one.

Monday’s two-out, ninth-inning home run was the knockout punch in a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Expos, punctuated by Monday throwing his fist in the air like a prizefighter as he rounded first base.

When it was over, Dodger players in the locker room at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium were singing a version of “The Happy Wanderer,” about to take a short flight to New York to begin another World Series appearance against the Yankees – one where this group would finally come out victorious.

As to how that events unfolded 31 years ago today, maybe it’s best if we let Monday and Scully use their best broadcast voices to explain it. We’ll just try to fill in the loose impediments.

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The strike season of 1981 already left things pretty messy.

The Dodgers (36-21) were somehow leading the NL West when play was stopped in mid-June, only because they’d played one more game (and won it) than Cincinnati (35-21). Houston, sub-.500 in the first half, won the “second half” of the NL West when the season resumed in early August – and the Dodgers were fourth.

Still, it was the Astros and Dodgers made to play a best-of-five to determine who’d play the winner of the Philadelphia-Montreal first-round NL East matchup in another best-of-five.

“You almost have to go back to all the crazy twists and turns we had against the Astros the year earlier,” said Monday from his home this week in Vero Beach, Fla., referring to losing a one-game playoff for 1980 NL West title, after the Dodgers swept Houston in the last three-game series of the regular season to force the extra contest.

“We went into the 1981 season in spring training knowing this wasn’t a team that wasn’t going to stay together much longer. In spite of having the record-setting infield (Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey), we had a combination of veterans and good young players who were ready to stretch their wins. That was the preamble to the season and we didn’t know how it was going to play out.

“We always knew we could have a chance to meet up with the Yankees again, too, as we did in ’77 and ’78, but lost both series. We get Houston again, lose the first two of that series, but win the final three.

“So we’re in Montreal playing the Expos, and they had a heck of a team. There was that extra incentive as we split the first two games in Los Angeles, but then lost Game 3 in Montreal. Now we had to win Game 4 on Saturday and Game 5 on Sunday – and we knew the Yankees were knocking out Kansas City to get back to the World Series.

“I still remember, and I’ve ask some of the guys about this: Tommy Lasorda sent us a letter. He knew how to push our buttons and blow the whistles. He wanted to get us motivated.

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“The first game we played in that series in Montreal, Game 3, they were writing about how ‘the boys from Hollywood couldn’t handle the cold weather.’ The roof on Olympic Stadium wasn’t there yet – it was still in France and it hadn’t been installed, even after the (1976) Olympic Games were long over. So Tommy also had this idea in a pregame meeting that, when we’re introduced, we’ll show ‘em. No one was going to wear their jackets. So we got out there first as we were introduced, then the Expos were introduced, and it went on and on to where if there were 54,000 people in the stands, it seemed as if 30,000 of them were also introduced. It finally got to a point to where someone on our line of players started rumbling: ‘Whose idea was this again? We’re freezing our rear ends off.’

“So now we get to Sunday, all tied at two games apiece. There was the story that we found out later – Jim Fanning, the Expos manager, was concerned about pitching Ray Burris on three day’s rest on that day against Fernando Valenzuela (Burris threw a 3-0 shutout against Valenzuela to win Game 2 on Oct. 14). Also, his bullpen was a bit roughed up, and closer Jeff Reardon had back issues. We roughed him up earlier in the series, and he also had a bad game against Philadelphia in the previous series (blowing a tie game in the 10th in Game 4).

“Fanning told Rodger Brulotte, one of the Expos’ French-language broadcasters who was also the team’s traveling secretary, that he wasn’t all that concerned about getting the game in that day — it was raining, cold. He told Brulotte not to use any ‘excessive zeal’ in getting the game started as Brulotte called the airport weather service and was told the rain was about to let up in an hour.

“But then Brulotte went to the umpires, as a story was later reported, and he told them there was no chance, according to his information, that the rain would let up. So they gave him the benefit of the doubt and postponed it until the next day. Of course, after we sat there and waited all day, we went to the hotel, and it stopped raining.”

Too late. The game was moved to Monday. And the winner would go to New York to start the World Series on Tuesday.

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Scully was in Minneapolis, Minn., on Sunday, Oct. 18. Not by choice, so much, but by network assignment.

CBS had put him on the Minnesota Vikings-Philadelphia Eagles NFL game that day.
“I did the Dodgers-Expos Game 4 Saturday in Montreal, and (Dodgers team owner) Peter O’Malley had arranged for a Lear jet to take me to Minneapolis for the NFL assignment. That happened a couple of times a year and it really helped me out.

“I’m in Minneapolis on Sunday, and Jim Murray was the general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles. A deeply religious Catholic man, he’d visited the Pope . . . I stress this because we had a conversation on the field before the game, and he said, ‘I’ll bet you’re really torn and you’d much rather be in Montreal (for the NLCS Game 5).’ I said, ‘Jim, I don’t even want to think of the Dodgers game, I’ve got a football game to do and I will not be distracted, so I’ve got to just forget about it.’ And then for some reason I added: ‘And you know what? It might even rain.’

“Well, Jim cocked his head and said, ‘If it rains out, just so you can get back there to do it, I’ll believe there’s a big Dodger in the sky.’ Coming from him, that was a funny line.

“So I’m in the booth now getting ready for the football game and all the technical people are asking me about the Dodgers. I said again, ‘Fellas, I’d love to know what’s going on there, but I don’t want anyone to feed me a score. I’m trying to block it all out.’

“So I did the football game, and when it ended, that’s when someone said, ‘You’ll never guess what happened. Rain.’ Wow, I’m thinking. The big Dodger in the sky. So I flew back to Montreal. I didn’t see Murray again, but I guarantee that had to shake him up to see that Game 5 was rained out. That was one in a million.”

While there was in excess of 54,000 for Games 3 and 4 in Montreal, there was only about 36,000 for this Game 5 on the cold, drizzly Monday afternoon.

“That was a moral victory for us – they had to go to work,” said Monday. “A lot of people also came in for the weekend to see those games, but had to leave.”

In Game 5, Montreal scored first. In the first. Tim Raines led off against Valenzuela with a double. No. 2 hitter Rodney Scott laid down a sacrifice, and the play went to third to try to get Raines. He was safe. Andre Dawson then grounded into a double play, but Raines scored.

“And they started blaring ‘The Happy Wanderer’ song over the PA,” said Monday.

Monday, batting sixth and starting in right field, led off the fifth with a single to center. He went to third on Pedro Guerrero’s single. Mike Scioscia lined out. But then Burris threw a wild pitch – Monday didn’t score, but it allowed Guerrero to take second. Valenzuela followed with a grounder to second. Without the double play scenario set up to get out of the inning, the play went to first to get Valenzuela, and Monday scored to tie the game, 1-1.

That’s how it stayed, typical of how the series had gone so far, with the teams combining for a .224 average. The pitchers had an ERA of 2.35.

In the bottom of the eighth, Monday noticed from his right-field spot that the Expos’ bullpen not too far from his view on the first-base line was heating up, even though Burris had given up just five hits and the one run through eighth innings, with just one walk.

“They’ve got Steve Rogers and Jeff Reardon warming up,” said Monday, referring first to the Expos’ starting ace who won Game 3, 4-1, three days earlier. “That was really a surprise to see Rogers up. He had a terrific postseason.
“When Fanning decided to pinch-hit for Burris in the eighth (with Tim Wallach) with one out and no-one on, I figured they’d go to the pen and Rogers could handle us easily.”

Rogers came in. Garvey popped out to second for the first out of the ninth.

“Cey then came up and hit a fly ball to left, and from the trajectory, I thought it had a chance to get out,” said Monday. “But it was so damp and cold, anything you hit that day — nothing was fluid about it. Even in batting practice, it was hard to hit it out. Cey’s ball went back into the corner, but Raines actually came in to catch it.”

Monday came around the home plate umpire and stepped into the batters box with two out.

Rogers fell behind, three balls and one strike.

“You ask any hitter, would he like to his 3-1 or 0-2?” said Monday. “You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to figure that out. Rogers has no margin for error. He doesn’t want to walk me.

“He throws a fastball that, instead of at the knees, was a little up. I knew I hit it well, but in the 19 years that I played, maybe that was the only time I didn’t know where it was hit.

“Visually, that park was tough to pick up the ball, either on offense or defense. And even later for me as a broadcaster.”

Scully remembers the ball heading toward center field, and he watched Dawson keep drifting back on the ball. That was his only clue, as well, as to what was happening.

The ball finally cleared the high wall in right-center. Scully says he doesn’t remember how he called it for that TV broadcast back to L.A. — NBC carried the contest. But it was one that wouldn’t be forgotten.

“It wasn’t until I saw Dawson finally run out of room that I figured out what happened,” said Monday, who was sprinting toward first and rounding it toward second, anticipating perhaps a double off the wall. “I was just delighted it got over the fence.”

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After he was mobbed at home plate, Monday sat down. His day was done. He was replaced by Ken Landreaux in right field — Guerrero remained in center field. Monday was nursing some leg injuries — two years prior, he had Achilles surgery.

“My legs weren’t conducive to artificial surfaces,” said Monday of the Olympic Stadium field. “From the time they had the Olympics there, to when they put turf down all over the field there, you could tell where the old track had been, and you’d get crazy hops all over there from the nails they used to put the turf down.

“Even the warning track there was rubberized. Cows would starve to death on that field.”

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Valenzuela got the first two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but then walked Gary Carter and Larry Parrish. Bob Welch was summoned from the Dodgers’ bullpen and got outfielder Jerry White to ground out to second to end the game, punctuated by Garvey’s extended stretch at first.

Another improbable Dodger finish.

“We caught hell in the locker room for singing ‘The Happy Wanderer’ – ‘Val-deri,Val-dera,’ but that’s what we kept hearing all through the series,” said Monday.

“That hour and 10 minute flight on the team plane to New York was a very enjoyable, but very short flight. And then if we don’t go and lose the first two games of the World Series.”

But win the next four.

Around Montreal, the Dodgers’ Game 5 victory has been called “Blue Monday” ever since that day.

More than just the fans had a tough time turning the calendar over on Monday. He can’t tell you how many times his passport was checked and re-checked by immigration officials every time the Dodgers would revisit Montreal. With all the different nationalities on the Dodgers roster, the guy from Santa Monica always got pulled aside, as if he was on some kind of terrorist watch list.

“The following season, we flew into Montreal from New York, very early in the evening, and I’m at a restaurant with Steve Yeager, order a beverage and we’re looking at the menu,” said Monday. “The waiter comes up and says, ‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave.’ ‘Why, are you closing? It’s 7 p.m.’ ‘I don’t want any fights here.’ Steve and I aren’t fighting. ‘I’m not worrying about you, but there are six other guys who want to jump all over you.’

“I’m broadcasting a game there once, and using the restroom in the press box. A guy comes up next to me and he says, ‘You ruined our franchise.’ I said, ‘Pal, I’m just using the restroom.’

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“There’s another time, the last year we’re in Montreal playing a game, I bring my wife Barbaralee and her daughter, who is studying French. We go to old Montreal, and my wife asks me to tell Ashley about the home run, and about how I have been asked to leave restaurants because of it. So I tell her the stories and just as we get to the restaurant we’re heading to, the hostess tells us: You have to leave. There we go again. I turn to Ashley and say, ‘See, they still don’t like me.’ But that wasn’t it. They just had a kitchen fire. But the timing of that couldn’t have been better.”

Just like his home run 31 years ago.

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