NL playoffs: Can Dodgers maintain recent dominance over Expos?

Most of the time when the Montreal Expos play the Los Angeles Dodgers, it's as though the Expos have booked passage on the Titanic. Going into the National League's best-of-five championship series (first two games here), Los Angeles has beaten Montreal 18 of the last 19 times they have met at Dodger Stadium. Things are a little better in Montreal, but not much, where the Dodgers were 5-1 in 1980 and 2-2 this season.

"I don't exactly know why we have dominated Montreal so convincingly over the past couple of years," said LA third baseman Ron Cey who has just come off the disabled list missing the Dodger-Astro series because of an injured arm. "There is no reason why we should dominate the Expos because they have everything a team needs to win against anybody, including pitching, defense, power and speed. The fact that Montreal beat Steve Carlton in a pressure situation to eliminate the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies from the playoffs gives you a pretty good idea of just how talented this team is.

"Obviously the Dodgers pitching staff has had a lot to do with our success against the Expos," Cey continued. "But in thinking back I also seem to remember that people all up and down our lineup have consistently come through with key hits against Montreal. Still I'm sure that nobody on this team is foolish enough to feel that the Expos won't be as tough or tougher than the Astros -- and they took us to five games."

Cey, who hasn't played since he was injured Sept. 9 against San Francisco, is one of five Dodgers who have hit 30 or more home runs at least once in their careers. Ron led the team in game winning hits this year with 9; had a stretch in May when he hit 8 homers in 15 days; and had his highest batting average (. 288) in nine years.

"Even though I've been taking extra batting practice, physically I won't be the same," Ron said, "But I'm so excited about being in this series and so sure I can come back and hit right away that I expect this feeling to overcome whatever I've lost."

Having Cey back (and we're assuming manager Tom LaSorda will start him immediately) means Pedro Guerrero will be shifted from third base to his normal position in right field with Rick Monday possibly getting some spot time in center.

The Dodger's strength all year has been their pitching rotation of Fernando Valenzuela, Jerry reuss, Burt Hooton and Bob Welch, which tied with Houston for the league lead in shutouts with 19. They also have four tough RBI hitters in Dusty Baker, Steve Garvey, Cey, and Guerrero.

Although LA made only six more errors during the regular season than the sharp fielding Cincinnati Reds, this is misleading when you consider how many wide throws and balls in the dirt were rescued by first baseman Steve Garvey.

Montreal at this point is a kind of "Cinderfella" that has momentum, great balance, good pitching and the advantage of three games at home in this series.

The Expos' new manager, who replaced Dick Williams with only weeks remaining in the regular season, is at least as well known to the public as the Unknown Soldier. His real name is Jim Fanning and he was vice president in charge of player development before being asked to run a team on the field for the first time in 19 years.

So far Fanning has shown that he isn't afraid to try things, and he also seems to have a flair for knowing jsut when to replace a starting pitcher with a fresh reliever.

If the "Hollywood" Dodgers thought that Montreal had upleasant, damp, and bone chilling weather early in the season, they should love the 38 and 40 degree temperatures that abound there right now. That's the kind of weather that produces a feeling in the hands, when bat meets ball, that can be likened to the shock your lead foot gets when you unknowingly step off a curbing.

Naturally the Expos must also play under these same arctic conditions, except that their players are used to it and may even see this in their own minds as a psychological burden for their opponents.

In Steve Rogers (who beat the Phillies twice), Scott Sanderson and Bill Gullickson, the Expos have enough starting pitchers to win it. And when they picked up reliever Jeff Reardon from the New York Mets in a late-season trade they solidified their bullpen. Reardon has a rubber arm that can throw strikeouts in the clutch.

For the Dodgers to continue to do well against the Expos they must keep people like Warren Cromartie and Jerry White off the bases and check the power of Andre Dawson, Gary Carter and Larry Parrish.

For the Expos to do well, they must win at least one game in LA and score more runs against Valenzuela, reuss and Hooton than the Houston Astros did.

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