The city of Montreal is without question one of the greatest hockey markets in the world but today it is in the spotlight for a different reason…baseball. The Canadiens have always been and will continue to be the main show in town but there was a time when the Montreal Expos were right there with them and later today, one of the greatest players in club history is going into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It has taken ten long years for him to find his way into Cooperstown but Tim Raines will finally take his rightful place among the best to have ever played the game of baseball. It is moment many a sports fan across Canada has been praying would come to fruition and those prayers are about to be answered. As the Canadiens organization were classy enough to try to help keep the Expos legacy alive by hanging the retired numbers of club’s legendary players in the rafters at the Bell Centre, it seems only fitting we pay tribute to arguably the best of the bunch on this special day.
5) April 6, 2001 – New York Mets vs Montreal Expos
At 41-years of age and more than a decade removed from being traded to the Chicago White Sox in the winter of 1990, Raines made what can only be described as a triumphant return to the place he called home during the prime years of his playing career in 2001. After beating the odds and making the club out of spring training following a two-year absence from the game after being diagnosed with lupus, the anticipation surrounding his pending return to Olympic Stadium could be felt by baseball fans throughout the country.
It was opportunity Expos fans had been hoping to one day get and they certainly did not disappoint. As Raines walked to the plate for his first at-bat in the bottom of the second inning with runners at first and second and two out, the crowd of 45, 123 erupted and simple would not relent. It was apparent to everyone watching how much the ovation meant to the veteran outfielder and he soaked it all in. It may have been over ten years since he was last in the uniform but the city’s love affair for with No. 30 had never gone away.
Mets starter Glendon Rusch was so rattled by the noise in the building that he walked the star attraction on four pitches to load the bases and they were promptly emptied courtesy an Orlando Cabrera double and capped with the soon-to-be Hall of Famer rounding the bases as if we had turned back time twenty years. It was tremendous theater and a moment no Expos fan or Raines will ever forget.
Tim Raines slides into Joe Morgan, 1981 pic.twitter.com/VQktVBpu3G
— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) May 30, 2017
4) April 21, 1981 – Philadelphia Phillies vs Montreal Expos
The 1981 season holds a special place in Montreal Expos history for two reasons. It was the one and only year in which the club qualified for the post-season and also happened to be the rookie season for one Tim Raines. While the Players Strike threw an unwanted wrinkle on both, the kid from Sanford, Florida still managed to electrify fans with his blazing speed on the basepaths and his ability to handle the bat at the dish.
After starting off his season with an eight-game hitting streak and going a perfect six-for-six on the stolen base front, Raines made quite the impression during game number nine against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies. The youngster proceeded to go 4-for-5 at the plate with a pair of doubles, two RBI, scored twice and stole four bases in leading the Expos to their seventh win of the young season.
In the blink of an eye, he became a fan favourite in Montreal and was starting to grab national attention. Though it was still early in the year and taking place in a “foreign country”, it was next to impossible to ignore a 22-year old with a .444 batting average and ten stolen bases all of two weeks into the season. Raines style of game fit perfectly with the Expos teams of that era but he was on a different level. The speed and ease in which he moved on the basepaths had never been seen before and it was exhilarating to watch.
3) August 16, 1987 – Pittsburgh Pirates vs Montreal Expos
In the midst of what would turn out to be the finest year of his career, Raines put together an afternoon to remember against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 16, 1987. For those who were lucky enough to be in attendance at the “Big O” or watching on the tube via TSN, they saw something that had been accomplished on just two other occasions in team history. Prior to that Sunday afternoon, only Tom Foli and Chris Speier had hit for the cycle but the time had come for that list to grow by one name.
Raines would cap off his perfect day at the dish in style, smacking his 16th homer of the season in the bottom of the eighth to secure a 10-7 win for the Expos and put yet another feather in his cap. He finished the afternoon with a season-high five hits and matched his previous high of four runs scored on May 29th against the San Francisco Giants, ironically enough, in a game in which he was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.
2) July 14, 1987 – MLB All Star Game
In what was his seventh consecutive All-Star selection, Raines did not get into the game until the bottom of the sixth inning after replacing Cincinnati Reds outfielder Eric Davis and actually had to wait until the ninth inning to get his first at bat. In what was a midsummer classic rarity, the two sides were still scoreless heading into the ninth but the Expos star left fielder wasted little time trying to change that.
Raines came to bat and promptly singled to centre off New York Yankees closer Dave Righetti, stole second and went to third as Detroit Tigers catcher Matt Nokes throwing attempt sailed into the outfield. Unfortunately, neither Juan Samuel nor Jeffory Leonard could bring him home, so the National League and American League would go to extra innings for the first-time since 1972.
After singling off Toronto Blue Jays closer Tom Henke in the eleventh and being stranded on base a second time, Raines would take matters into his own hands his next time up. With runners on first and second and two out in the bottom of the thirteenth inning, he lined Jay Howell’s 2-0 pitch into the left-center-field gap with a game-winning triple. After going hitless in his previous six All-Star game appearances, the 28-year old went 3-for-3 and was voted MVP for his efforts.
The North Remembers https://t.co/6R9I68KetI
— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) July 27, 2017
1) May 2, 1987 – Montreal Expos vs New York Mets
Selecting an individual performance that best sums up the kind of player someone was throughout their career is, more often than not, a difficult thing to do. Well, that certainly isn’t the case when it comes to Raines, as all signs point back to a Saturday afternoon at Shea Stadium back on the 2nd of May in 1987. It was a day no Expos fans will ever erase from their memory bank and the fact it happened on the national stage, NBC’s “Game of the Week” broadcast with the legendary tandem of Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola calling the game, was the cherry on top.
After being forced to miss the first month of the season due to a contract dispute, which would later be deemed an act of collusion on the part of all 26 owners, the 1986 National League Batting Champion turned the baseball world on its ear with a career defining performance upon his return to the lineup. Raines proceeded to go 4-for-5 on the day, with a pair of singles, a triple, a stolen base, a walk, scored three times and picked up four RBI courtesy of his game winning grand slam in the top of the tenth inning.
As impressive as those numbers may look on paper, it was absolutely breathtaking to watch unfold. Seeing him destroy the first pitch he saw from David Cone off the right field wall in the top of the first and fly around the bases in the fashion he did was sheer poetry in motion. In mere seconds, Raines reminded fans everywhere what they had been missing out on over the course of the previous month and further cemented that fact with his clinching blow off Mets closer Jesse Orosco.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.