One of the most famous moments in Dodgers history, especially since they moved to Los Angeles, is Rick Monday’s pennant-winning home run against the Expos in Game 5 of the 1981 NLCS. The ninth-inning shot sent the Dodgers to the World Series, and in Montreal that moment is known ruefully as Blue Monday.
But through another lens, it’s the time the Dodgers defeated Captain America. This is Marvel week at SB Nation, after all.
The 1981 baseball season was like 2020 in a lot of ways. A shortened season, though the strife that year wasn’t a global pandemic but rather labor discord between the players and owners that brewed for years. Nearly a third of the 1981 season was lost, the divisions were split in half and decided by a division series 13 years ahead of its time.
The Dodgers had to come back from down 2-0 to win the best-of-5 division series, then fell behind 2-1 in the NLCS to a young and supremely talented Expos team whose lineup included Hall of Famers Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, and Gary Carter. The Dodgers evened things up in Game 4, then Game 5 was delayed a day because of snow.
Game 5 pitted rookie Fernando Valenzuela, who’d win the NL Cy Young that year, started for the Dodgers against Ray Burris, who shut the Dodgers out in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. The game was close throughout, Burris lasting eight innings and Valenzuela into the ninth.
In the top of the ninth inning, Montreal turned in relief to Steve Rogers, who allowed only one run in a complete game win in Game 3 just three days earlier. Rogers was one of the best pitchers in baseball during this time. Looking back, we should have known it then, but we were unaware of his alter ego until the various factual documentaries about his life several decades later revealed the truth.
Rogers from 1975-82 ranked fifth among MLB pitchers in WAR (37.5), fourth in innings pitched (1,969⅔), fourth among starters in ERA+ (124), and fifth among NL pitchers in strikeouts (1,175). Rogers had a 2.71 ERA in 24 career starts against the Dodgers heading into this appearance.
Monday especially had it rough against him, going 10-for-64 (.156) with 23 strikeouts. Monday against Rogers had two home runs and three doubles in 73 plate appearances, but the last of those extra-base hits came in 1975.
“We knew at the time, one, it was extremely cold so the ball was probably not going to fly out of the ballpark, and Rogers was on the mound so we knew it was going to be difficult,” Monday said.
But with two outs, on a 3-1 pitch from Rogers, fly out of the ballpark was exactly what Monday’s drive did, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. The Dodgers closed out the pennant in the bottom of the inning to reach their third World Series in five years.
The first two of those trips to the Fall Classic were losses to the Yankees, who were waiting from them again this time, too. The Dodgers and Yankees met in 10 previous World Series, with New York winning eight. But it was those losses in 1977 and 1978 that were fresh in these Dodgers’ minds. In the end, LA got what it wanted.
But the Dodgers needed to get through Captain America first before they became avengers.