1986 Montréal Expos
Managed by Buck Rodgers
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Hubie Brooks, Tim Raines and Jeff Reardon
- Player of the Year: Tim Raines
- Best Rookie: Andres Galarraga
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Hubie Brooks (SS) and Tim Raines (OF)
- Players of the Month:
- Minor League Player of the Year: Alonzo Powell, West Palm Beach (A) and Jacksonville (AA)
- Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Sergio Valdez, West Palm Beach (A)
The 1986 Montreal Expos had a tough act to follow. In what what supposed to be a rebuilding year, the 1985 edition of the team had finished 7 games above .500, but that season had also seen the New York Mets emerge as a serious contender in the NL East after years of torpor, joining the perenially strong St. Louis Cardinals at the top of the heap. Both of these teams figured to remain strong in 1986, and the Philadelphia Phillies were also getting stronger.
General Manager Murray Cook approached the 1985-86 off-season in his usual manner, by looking to trade a valuable player in order to plug a number of holes. After the blockbuster Gary Carter trade had set the stage for the 1985 season, he pulled the trigger on six-player trade with the Cincinnati Reds on December 19th. Pitcher Bill Gullickson, who had been a solid contributor for the Expos since 1980, without ever achieving the stardom predicted for him when he was the second player chosen overall in the 1977 amateur draft, was sent to the Reds alongside back-up catcher Sal Butera in return for pitchers Andy McGaffigan, John Stuper and Jay Tibbs and catcher Dann Bilardello. Tibbs was the key to the deal, a former top prospect in the Mets farm system, alongside Dwight Gooden and Expo teammate Floyd Youmans, who had done very well in his first try with the Reds in 1984, going 6-2, 2.86 in 14 starts, and then ran into problems in 1985, finishing 10-16, 3.92. The Expos' brass saw him as a future ace, and had always liked McGaffigan, who had been a member of the team for the first half of the 1984 season. Bilardello had been the Reds' starting catcher in 1983 as a 1982 Rule V Draft pick from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but had failed to hit over the next two seasons. He had a strong arm, though, something the previous year's starter, Mike Fitzgerald lacked. The veteran Stuper was a throw-in and would be released after failing to make the team out of spring training.
The rest of the off-season was less spectacular. Starting pitcher David Palmer left as a free agent. Bill Laskey, a disaster on the mound in 1985, was sent back to the San Francisco Giants for George Riley and Alonzo Powell, while the reluctant Pete Incaviglia, who had refused to sign with the Expos after being chosen in the first round of the 1985 amateur draft, was sent to the Texas Rangers in return for infielder Jim Anderson and pitcher Bob Sebra, after the Rangers promised him that he would be able to skip the minor leagues.
Spring training turned out to be a busy period as well. Unhappy with the catching situation, Cook acquired two more catchers, both from the St. Louis Cardinals organization, Randy Hunt and Tom Nieto, who would both play for the major league team during the season. First base was also a concern, as the young Andres Galarraga, who had struggled in his first taste of major league action in 1985, was not hitting in Grapefruit League games either. Worried that Galarraga was not yet ready for the Show, Cook engineered two deals he would later regret. He first acquired Wayne Krenchicki from the Reds on March 31st, in the process giving up pitching prospect Norm Charlton, who would turn out to be infinitely more valuable than the washed-up Krenchicki who hit .240 with no power in his last major-league season. Then on April 4th, he traded for veteran slugger Jason Thompson from the Pittsburgh Pirates; in this case, what he gave up was inconsequential - two minor league players who never made the big leagues - but he picked up the rest of Thompson's hefty salary, and then realized Thompson too was washed up - he would hit .196 with no home runs before earning his release on June 30th. To make room for the new acquisitions on the roster, the two men who had been expected to be Galarraga's back-up at first base, Scot Thompson and Terry Francona, were both released, and then catcher Fitzgerald was optioned to the AAA Indianapolis Indians to leave the catching duties to Bilardello and Nieto.
As a result, on Opening Day, April 8th against the Atlanta Braves (Boxscore), the starting line-up was as follows: Tim Raines LF; Vance Law 2B; Andre Dawson RF; Jason Thompson 1B; Hubie Brooks SS; Tim Wallach 3B; Mitch Webster CF; Dann Bilardello C; and Bryn Smith P. The Braves shut out the Expos 6-0 that night, behind Rick Mahler's pitching. The next game, Galarraga started at first base, hit a home run and drove in four runs to give Tibbs his maiden victory as an Expo, and just like that the Jason Thompson era was over. The Expos played .500 ball in April, then went on a tremendous hitting streak in early May: they scored 44 runs in six games from May 3rd to May 9th, on their way to a streak of 10 wins in 11 games. They were briefly nicknamed Buck's Bombers (in honor of manager Buck Rodgers) during that period, but never managed to come closer than 3 games behind the division-leading New York Mets. That was on May 24th, when the Expos' record stood at 24-15, second best in the National League, with the Mets leading all of baseball with a 26-11 mark. Surprisingly, the Expos managed to hang on to second place for a very long time, relinquishing it for good only on August 20th, when the Phillies moved past them. The pennant race had been over for quite a while by then, as the Expos had already fallen 19 games behind the Mets at that point. They would eventually finish in fourth place in the division, having also been passed by the Cardinals, with a 78-83 record, 29½ games behind the future world champion New York Mets.
The Expos were able to be competitive for two-thirds of the season thanks to some unexpectedly good hitting. Left fielder Tim Raines had one of his very best seasons, which is saying a lot, leading the National League with a .334 batting average, to go along with 78 bases on balls and 70 stolen bases. However, he only scored 91 runs, in part because Rodgers moved him from the lead-off to the third spot in the line-up on July 26th. This took advantage of Raines' increasing power - he slugged .476 - but there is no question that taking him out of the lead-off spot weakened the offense overall. Right-fielder Andre Dawson continued his comeback to his former levels of production, hitting .284 with 20 home runs and 78 RBI, good but not great numbers. Center fielder Mitch Webster was very good, hitting .290 with 31 doubles, 13 triples and 36 stolen bases, and first baseman Galarraga was solid in his rookie year, hitting .271 with 10 home runs and 42 RBI while missing most of July and August with knee and rib injuries. However, the biggest contributions came from two players whose seasons would end in early August because of injuries: catcher Fitzgerald, after his recall from AAA at the end of April, hit .282 and slugged .440 in 73 games, and shortstop Brooks was having a fantastic year, hitting .340 and slugging .569 with 58 RBI in half a season of playing time when he suffered a season-ending hand injury on August 1st. Neither of these players' replacements contributed much: Bilardello hit .194 in 79 games at catcher, while Nieto hit .200 in 30 games, and Tom Foley, who took Brooks' place in the line-up, hit .257 with no power. With two other spots not contributing, second baseman Vance Law hit .225 and slugged .325, while third baseman Tim Wallach, an All-Star the previous season, slumped all the way to a .233 batting average, the Expos simply did not have enough offense left in the second half to compete.
On the mound, while great things were expected of Bryn Smith, Jay Tibbs and Joe Hesketh, the best performance came from the young Floyd Youmans. Widely regarded as the second coming of Dwight Gooden, Youmans went 13-12 with a 3.53 ERA, but that only tells half the story: he struck out 202 batters in 219 innings, while giving up only 145 hits, and at times showed absolutely unhittable stuff. Over the first two months of the season, his ERA was 5.61, but after that, he was practically unhittable, even if offensive support was lacking. After winning 18 games in 1985, Smith returned to what would be his normal level of production for the rest of his career, a 10-8 record with a 3.94 ERA. Tibbs started strong, then faded and spent time in AAA, ending up a disappointing 7-9, 3.97. Hesketh went 6-5 over his first 15 starts, but with a high 5.01 ERA, and then went on the disabled list with a shoulder injury on July 4th, ending his season. Andy McGaffigan began the season in the rotation, but found his true calling in the bullpen, going 10-5, 2.65 in 143 innings. The bullpen as a whole was an area of strength: closer Jeff Reardon saved 35 games and went to the All-Star Game for the second consecutive year, joining Brooks and Raines, but set-up man Tim Burke had an even better season, going 9-7, 2.93 in 101 innings over 68 games. Left-hander Bob McClure posted a 3.02 ERA in 63 innings after being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in June and Randy St. Claire went 2-0, 2.37 in 19 late-season innings.
However, the 1986 season for the Expos is really defined by some of its most quirky happenings. Major League Baseball had decided to trim rosters from 25 to 24 players that season, as a cost-cutting measure. As a result, manager Buck Rodgers chose to employ relief pitcher Dan Schatzeder as one of his pinch-hitters. The moved worked better than anyone could have anticipated, as Schatzeder went 4 for 11 with a double and two walks in the role, while posting a 3.20 ERA in 30 relief appearances before being traded at the end of July. Rodgers also used 2B Vance Law three times as a pitcher in blowouts, and he responded with a 2.25 ERA. On June 16th, the Expos acquired pitcher Dennis Martinez from the Baltimore Orioles; Martinez was considered washed up and sent to the bullpen. In his first appearance for the team, Martinez gave up a team record 9 runs to the Pirates in 3 2/3 innings of work on June 21st (Boxscore). Somehow, he was not released, but nurtured along by Rodgers and pitching coach Larry Bearnarth, he regained control of his fabulous curve ball, began to get his personal life in order - he had been suffering from alcoholism in Baltimore - and by the end of the season, was once again an effective starter. Rookie Bob Sebra was called up on July 24th and came out of nowhere to become the team's second-best starter after Youmans, going 5-5 with a 3.55 ERA, 3 complete games and 66 strikeouts in 91 innings over 13 starts.
But there really was only one truly unforgettable game in 1986. On a lazy Sunday afternoon in Atlanta on July 6th (Boxscore), the Expos got out to an early 10-2 lead going into the bottom of the 5th inning. Andy McGaffigan, in one of his last appearances as a starter, failed to nurse that eight-run lead through the 5th, giving up Bob Horner's third home run of the game, after solo shots had accounted for the Braves first two runs, to bring the score to 10-7. The Expos added another run, and with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 9th, Horner took Jeff Reardon deep for his fourth home run of the game, the first four-home run game in baseball in 10 years, and only the second time in history that a batter had managed the feat in a losing effort (one had to go back to Ed Delahanty in 1896 for that). The next four-homer game in the National League would not take place until 1993. Yet, Horner's exploit should not detract from Al Newman's: in that game, the Expos' diminutive back-up infielder hit the only home run of his eight-year major league career, a two-run shot off Zane Smith in the 4th. The debate still rages as to which of these two events was the most unlikely.
- Gary Belleville: "May 7, 1986: Raines, Expos run away with easy win over Phillies," SABR Baseball Games Project.