As you undoubtedly know by now, Gary Carter passed away yesterday. The Hall of Fame catcher had an outstanding career as a big part of the star-crossed Montreal Expos’ only playoff team and later a World Champion Mets team. My own first awareness of Carter was one Christmas or birthday long ago, when, although I did not collect baseball cards, someone gave me a pack, and a card bearing the image of a young Gary Carter was included.
Many pieces have been and will be written about Carter in the wake of his passing, pieces that will tell various stories of his memorable on-field exploits. Different people will have their own particular favorite Gary Carter “moment” for which there is no substitute. As a contribution to the ongoing tribute to Carter around the Web, here are Carter’s three biggest regular season hits as according to Win Probability Added (WPA).
3. May 13, 1981, +.515 WPA
The 1981 season was an odd one for baseball. An in-season strike interrupted and shortened the season. To deal with this situation, baseball divided the season into two “halves,” and each division had a winner of the first and second half. An additional playoff round was added prior the two Championship Series (remember, this was prior to the wildcard), where the winners of each division’s halves played each other in a series in order to decide which team would advance to the Championship Series. The Expos made their first and only playoff appearance by winning the second half. Montreal actually beat the Phillies in the opening series. However, they lost to the Dodgers in the Championship series on Rick Monday‘s Game Five, ninth-inning home run, an event known to Expos fans as “Blue Monday.”
Back to Gary Carter: his third-biggest regular season hit came in a losing effort back in May of the 1981 season versus the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The Expos trailed 1-0 most of the game until Andre Dawson hit a solo home run to lead off the seventh. The Dodgers took the lead again in the bottom of that inning, scoring three runs to go up 4-1.
The Expos came up to bat in the top of the ninth with less than a three percent chance of winning according to WPA. However, they managed three singles in a row to load the bases. Rod Scott walked in a run, bringing the score to 4-2 with none out. Andre Dawson drove in another to make the score 4-3 with one out and runners on the corners. That brought Carter to the plate, and he doubled in both runners to give Montreal its first lead of the game (+.515 WPA), 5-4. The next batter would drive Carter in, and the Expos were sitting pretty at 6-4 going into the bottom of the ninth.
Unfortunately for the Expos, they were not the only team that could put things together. A hit batter and an error put two on, and Steve Garvey drove them both in to tie the game. Ron Cey followed that up with a two-run walk-off homer.
2. July 9, 1978, +.588 WPA
In 1978 the Expos were still a year away from a string of winning seasons, and Carter was still a year away from a run of ten straight All-Star selections (although he had made the game once already in 1975). In Philadelphia that July, Carter had another big hit in what was ultimately to be another Expos loss. The Expos started the game with a lead off home run from Dave Cash in the top of the first, and Ellis Valentine homered again in the first to put them up 2-0. Carter himself led off the second with a homer. Philadelphia tied things up in the bottom of the second on a two-run homer from Richie Hebner.
The game remained deadlocked at three until the bottom of the sixth, when Hebner struck gain with another two-run shot. The Phillies scored again in the inning to go up 6-3. The score stayed that way until the top of the eighth, when Andre Dawson hit a home run to start the inning. Later in the inning, down 6-4, the Phillies had two runners on with two outs when Carter hit another home run to put the Expos up 7-6 (+.588 WPA). But, as we saw in the previously-discussed game, one “clutch hit” does not prevent another, and the Phillies ended up winning the game in the bottom of the ninth.
1. May 9. 1978. +.723 WPA
On May 9 of the same season, the Expos had already lost the first game of a doubleheader in heartbreaking fashion when the Braves scored twice in the bottom of the ninth. The Expos looked like they were headed for another loss in the second game, too. Montreal did manage to score first in the fourth inning, but by the top of the seventh, the Braves had gained a 5-1 lead. The Expos managed to cut the lead to 6-4 when Gary Carter came to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs. This was the team’s last chance, and Carter delivered, hitting a three-run bomb that (finally) turned out to be a game-winner.
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