"This team has really progressed the last couple of months," says Owen, who has developed into the Montreal leader. "We have a good blend of veterans and young players. We're not worried about everything like we were last year. Last year we felt we had to win. We're all a lot more relaxed this season. We're playing hard. We're playing together. We're having a lot of fun."
The pressure to win began in earnest on May 25, 1989, when the Expos dealt pitchers Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris to Seattle for Langston. It was a big gamble because Montreal knew it might lose Langston to free agency after the season, but the Expos were taking their best shot at winning their first pennant in the team's 21-year history. Montreal didn't come close, finishing at .500 for the second straight season. Langston won 12 games, but only three of those victories came in the last two months of the season, when the Expos collapsed. After Langston opted to become a free agent, along with fellow pitchers Bryn Smith and Pascual Perez and outfielder Hubie Brooks, Montreal looked like it was a lock to finish fifth or sixth.
Contributing mightily to the Expos' unexpected success has been DeShields, who was the leading candidate for National League Rookie of the Year when he broke his finger last Friday. Until then, DeShields, Montreal's leadoff hitter, was batting .304, with 23 stolen bases and 35 runs scored. In 1989 the Expos' leadoff men scored 87 runs, second fewest in the league. DeShields had been igniting the Montreal offense like a classic point guard, which he once was. DeShields signed to play basketball at Villanova but then chose pro baseball instead.
Another rookie, outfielder Marquis Grissom, has also been sidelined with a broken finger. He had 12 steals before getting injured diving back to second base on May 28. Grissom should be back in a week to add his speed to that of Tim Raines (24 steals at week's end) and Otis Nixon (21 steals despite playing in only 35 games). More important, Grissom joins Raines and rookie rightfielder Larry Walker in what has become perhaps the league's best defensive outfield.
That improved defense has helped the Expos' pitching staff. Through Sunday, Boyd had a 2.25 ERA in his last eight starts. Dennis Martinez (2.62 ERA) had been solid as usual. Kevin Gross (8-4) was close to matching his 1989 total of 11 wins. Dave Schmidt, a free agent who left the Orioles after last season, had filled in for injured closer Tim Burke (hairline fracture of the right fibula) with seven saves. Rookie Bill Sampen, drafted out of the Pirates' organization in December, was 5-0.
Now there are rumblings that Gross and Zane Smith, a lefthanded starter, will test free agency this winter—or will be traded before then. General manager Dave Dombrowski is shrewd and fearless, and his minor league system continues to produce top-quality players. In addition, Montreal had 10 of the first 53 selections in the June draft. The Expos' future looks better than anyone expected.
When the owners' Expansion Committee met in Cleveland last Thursday to chart the course of baseball's growth, some sign-carrying baseball fans from Buffalo marched in front of the hotel where the owners were meeting, cheering and chanting about how much that city wants a team. Afterward, the owners announced that the National League, which has two fewer teams than the American League, would add two clubs in 1993. Unfortunately for Buffalo, which last year drew 1.1 million fans for its Triple A team, it appears to be trailing the two generally accepted front-runners, Denver and Tampa-St. Petersburg.
The owners set up a schedule for reviewing presentations from Denver, Tampa-St. Pete, Buffalo, Miami, Orlando, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and others over the next several months. However, it looks as if the major leagues won't expand again for a while after 1993, so the losers could have a long wait. Tampa-St. Pete is a leader because it recently completed a 43,000-seat domed stadium to lure a team. Denver's 76,000-seat Mile High Stadium—a multipurpose facility that's the home of the Triple A Zephyrs—and history of strong support for its teams have helped the city's chances of landing a team.
HELD IN CONTEMPT