Zeile hit a three-run homer in the last at-bat of his career, leading the New York Mets over the Expos 8-1 on Sunday in Montreal’s final game before moving to Washington.
“I tried to enjoy the day and have something fun and memorable to take with me,” Zeile said.
The game was also the last for Art Howe as the Mets’ manager. He was fired Sept. 15, but chose to stay on to finish out a dismal season in which the Mets went 71-91.
“The special things that happened today, it was exciting to be a part of,” Howe said. “When Todd hit that home run I just got goosebumps.”
The Expos played their first and final game as Montreal’s “Nos Amours” at Shea Stadium. In front of an uninspired crowd of 33,569 that was fitting for the two worst teams in the NL East, fans started a brief “Let’s go Expos!” chant in the ninth inning.
“In the ninth inning, it really hit me that we weren’t the Montreal Expos,” Terrmel Sledge said. “Making the last out in Montreal and having the last hit here, it’s weird to be a part of this. It’s weird to be a part of history. When I look it up, I’ll see my name.”
A couple hundred fans lingered at the Expos dugout after Endy Chavez grounded out to second for the last out, but the players didn’t return. The Expos finished with a record of 2,753-2,943 and four ties.
“I’ve seen this with some other ballclubs when they were moving, and from a distance it doesn’t really hit you,” Expos manager Frank Robinson said. “But when you’re involved in this thing and it’s final—the name Montreal Expos won’t be in existence next year, that’s a rude awakening, and it’s a sad situation because of the people it’s going to touch in a negative way.”
The Expos enthusiastically began their first season in the National League on April 8, 1969, in front of an opening day crowd of 44,591 and beat the Mets 11-10, highlighted by Coco Laboy’s three-run homer in the eighth.
Starting next season, the ballclub that jump-started the careers of stars such as Vladimir Guerrero, Larry Walker, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and Gary Carter, will play in Washington—becoming the first franchise to relocate since the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.
Before the game, players donned the gray road uniform with the red script “Montreal” written across its chest for one last time without much sentimentality. To Brad Wilkerson and Joey Eischen, a member of the 1994 team that had the best record in baseball before the players’ strike ended the season and canceled the playoffs, the real finale was the rousing send-off fans gave them at Olympic Stadium on Wednesday.
Coach Eddie Rodriguez playfully posed for photographers as he posted the final scorecard, and several dozen fans in Expos jerseys and hats gathered behind their dugout holding signs such as “Nos Amours”—our beloved ones— “Always in our hearts” and “Au Revoir Expos.”
The Expos will make the move without their general manager, Omar Minaya, who took over the same role with the Mets on Thursday.
Minaya, a deft talent evaluator, helped assemble a competitive squad in Montreal despite the budgetary limitations set by Major League Baseball. The Expos were bought by the 29 other teams in 2002 and finished over .500 the past two seasons. This year, they fell to 67-95 after Guerrero left as a free agent.
“We’re maybe two or three guys away from the playoffs,” Wilkerson said. “Moving to Washington might bring us to the playoffs.”
The Expos got off to a good start Sunday, scoring a run on Sledge’s RBI single, but didn’t have any success against Tom Glavine (11-14) afterward, mustering just three hits in his six innings.
Sledge got the Expos’ final hit—Bob Bailey had the first—in the eighth off John Franco, who was making his 695th and perhaps last appearance for New York.
The 44-year-old Franco then got Ryan Church to foul out to Zeile, who was catching in the last game of his 15-year career. With the fans saluting Franco, Zeile gave the ball to Franco and the two hugged in front of the dugout.
“That might be the last ball ever in a Mets uniform,” Franco said.
The Mets tied it in the first on David Wright’s sacrifice fly and took a 3-1 lead on the rookie’s two run-homer off John Patterson (4-7), making Montreal’s last start—Mudcat Grant made the Expos’ first.
Kaz Matsui had RBI singles in the fifth and eighth, and Zeile added his three-run homer in the sixth off Claudio Vargas.
The Mets honored Zeile before the game. He was given a jersey signed by his teammates, a scrapbook chronicling this season and a vacation of his choice. … Jose Reyes’ three stolen bases were a career high. … Maury Wills struck out in the Expos’ first at-bat, against Tom Seaver.