Expos within striking distance '94 work stoppage hurt Montreal most; Stetch drive


Maybe the Montreal Expos have one coming. They had the best record in baseball when the 1994 season was cut short by the lengthy players' strike, and now are making another unlikely run at the postseason.

Getting there won't be easy. They are in the midst of a five-game series against the division-leading Atlanta Braves and will have to face the Braves again next weekend, but they were percentage points ahead of the San Diego Padres in the hunt for the National League's wild-card berth before last night's 3-2 loss to Atlanta.

"Everyone said we were a last-place club in spring training," said manager Felipe Alou. "We're having a ball winning games against all those good teams."

It would be fitting, said former Expos general manager Kevin Malone -- now the Orioles assistant GM -- but it would not be enough.

"I know how hard it was to overcome the obstacles they have overcome and I know how hard Felipe and the players have worked at it," Malone said. "It would be a nice reward for them, but I don't know if anybody will ever be able to make that [1994] up to them.

"That was their most legitimate shot at the world championship in a long time. I guess it [a playoff berth this year] would be some justice, but I don't know if it would quite replace what we lost."

The Expos have remained competitive despite almost constant turnover. They have sent front-line talent all over the major leagues, but have managed to make good things happen with a largely anonymous club that plays well together and excels at fundamental baseball.

"They sign good players and they develop them in their minor-league system," Malone said. "They learn how to play correctly in the minor-league system and Felipe expects them to play that way. They play winning team baseball."

In the American League, the Boston Red Sox are facing tremendous odds as they enter the final 10 days of the season. Last night, they won the first of seven head-to-head meetings with the first-place New York Yankees, 4-2, and have to win six of them just to maintain a mathematical possibility of winning the AL East title.

Perhaps they can take some heart from the Seattle Mariners, who have gained eight games in nine days on the AL West-leading Texas Rangers, but this is an even taller order. The Red Sox have the toughest schedule of any division or wild-card contender and they need to go 7-2 over their last nine games just to have an outside shot at a playoff berth.

Triple threat

San Diego's Ken Caminiti is a strong contender for National League MVP honors, and he hasn't hurt his cause with the way he has swung the bat down the stretch. Caminiti entered last night's game ranked in the top 10 in batting average (.324), home runs (37) and RBIs (125), but if the season had started at the All-Star break, he would be cruising to the Triple Crown. He entered last night's game batting .363 with 25 homers and 76 RBIs in the second half.

If they gave a Cy Young Award for second-half performance, former Padre Andy Benes would be right there. He's 11-2 since the break and is a major reason why the Cardinals have the NL Central championship all but locked up.

Butler may stay

Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Brett Butler won't be back this year, but he is having second thoughts about retiring. He broke his hand just days after coming back from surgery for throat cancer, prompting speculation that he would go home for good, but he said this week that he doesn't want to go out that way.

"Sometime this winter, I'll decide what I want to do," Butler said. "I know I don't want to go out this way, but I realize I've got to go out on God's terms, not my terms. I was more ready to retire when I came back [after the surgery and cancer treatments] . . . than I am now. It would have been easy to tip my cap, but I don't want to go out that way."

Pub Date: 9/21/96

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