"It's a little bit like a fairy tale, like a book written for a sixth grader," said Montreal Expo pitcher Steve Rogers, an educated man with an appreciation of the dramatic. "I don't feel that way but the script sure reads that way."
Today, he delivered a soliloquy, beating the Philadelphia Phillies and Steve Carlton, 3-0, for the second time in a week, with a six-hitter and a two-run single as the Expos won the National League East title. "I don't think my teammates should expect me to produce the game-winning RBI in Los Angeles," he said, as drily as anyone covered by ice packs and champagne could.
All day the talk was how the Phillies had lost two in Montreal and came home to tie the series, a noble feat. But the Expos lost two and came back to win it, a nobler feat.
As Warren Cromartie said, over and over, "We beat the best, we beat the best."
He turned toward a television in the corner of the locker room, where a local station was showing footage of the Phillies' triumphant World Series parade last year. "Not any more," he shouted at the screen. "Not any more."
Greg Gross, a member of the former world champions, wandered into the bedlam, patted Cromartie on the stomach and said, "Enjoy it."
There's no doubt the Expos will. Montreal, which plays the Dodgers Tuesday in Los Angeles, will be participating in the National League championship playoffs for the first time in its 13-year history.
Before the game, as Phillie fans yelled, "Choke, choke" at the Expos taking batting practice, Cromartie said, "There's lots of assumptions -- like we'll choke. But this is the ultimate one: we'll win, we'll go on top first."
And they did. Carlton, pitching with three days rest, struck out the side on 13 pitches in the first inning and was untouchable for four innings. But in the fifth, Larry Parrish, who came into the game one for 16 in the series, led off with a single to left. Tim Wallach walked on four pitches and Chris Speier (six for 15 in the series) bounced to second.
Manny Trillo, who usually makes these things look routine, bobbled the double-play ball and could get only the force at second.
The next batter was Jerry Manuel, who had left 15 men on base in the first four games. Carlton walked him to load the bases.
Rogers would have to fend for himself. He is a self-described "wail and bail" hitter, who got his first major-league hit off Carlton in 1973. "It was due to his hereditary defect: can't cover first. He got it from his dad."
This time, Rogers singled solidly to center. Parrish scored with the Expos' first run, and when cutoff man Pete Rose decided unwisely to go to third instead of home, Speier scored on the throw. The Expos scored another run in the sixth on a single by Andre Dawson and a double by Parrish.
The Phillies, meanwhile, were doing nothing with Rogers, also pitching with three days rest. Perhaps it was the carbohydrate-loading he did Saturday night, perhaps the hot fudge sundae. Perhaps it was something else.
On Tuesday, before the series began, Rogers said for the first time -- but by no means the last -- that the Expos had won something, though not much, by taking the second-half championship in the NL East.
"I said it a whole lot when we were 2-0. I tried to forget it when we were 2-1, and 2-2. Then it dawned on me . . . I was paying lip service to something, saying we hadn't won anything. We hadn't. We had to win today to win something, anything."
The closest the Phillies came to solving Rogers was in the fourth, when Gary Matthews singled and tried to score on Trillo's single to center. Matthews was out at the plate, but catcher Gary Carter was elbowed in the temple by Matthews and needed smelling salts to clear his head.
The Phillies also failed to score in the sixth, after a leadoff bunt single by Smith and a walk to Rose. George Vukovich bounced back to Rogers, who went to second for the force on Rose. But Speier was knocked off his feet by Rose and could not make the throw to first in time.
Two on, one out, Mike Schmidt at the plate. He bounced into an inning-ending double play.
"I went up there telling myself to look for a good pitch, not to try to hit the home run," Schmidt said. "He threw a good pitch for him. It was probably a ball. I shouldn't have swung at it. I won't hit into five double plays in a year."
After that the Phillies went meekly. Vukovich, Saturday's hero with a pinch home run, struck out looking with a man on first in the eighth.
The Phillies went 1-2-3 in the ninth. Trillo, who made the last out in each of the Expos' three wins, lined to Cromartie at first to end the game. "When I hit it, I was praying he wouldn't catch it," Trillo said.
"I would have jumped out of the damned stadium to catch that ball," Cromartie said.
Cromartie jumped and whooped and tangoed with a Canadian flag, while Manager Jim Fanning, the rookie who took over on Sept. 8 and watched the Expos lose their first two under his direction, stood and watched some more. "I wanted to look at it before I became a part of it," he said.
As he spoke, Paul Owens, the vice president of the Phillies, made his way across the crowded room. "You beat us good," Owens whispered, embracing him.
"Last time," Fanning said, "I was hugging you."
Owens kissed him on the cheek and left.