MONTREAL (AP) — Pinch-hitter Ricardo Nanita singled with two out in the ninth inning to give the Toronto Blue Jays a 5-4 victory over the New York Mets on Friday night at Olympic Stadium,
A crowd of 46,121 turned out for the first baseball game at the Big O since the Montreal Expos’ farewell game on Sept. 24, 2004 – as much to show the world they want Major League Baseball back and to pay tribute to former star catcher Gary Carter as to watch an exhibition game.
The teams will play again Saturday, when the Expos’ 1994 team will be feted.
The Blue Jays’ Munenori Kawasaki opened the ninth with a double and scored from third as Nanita singled up the middle. Jeremy Jeffress pitched the final two innings for the win.
The Mets’ Chris Young had a two-run double in the fourth off Jays starter Mark Buehrle.
Toronto got one back in the fourth on Jose Bautista’s home run, but Ruben Tejada doubled and scored on Daniel Murphy’s double off Casey Janssen in the fifth.
Travis d’Arnaud led off the seventh with a home run, but Edwin Encarnacion tied it with a two-run single in the seventh off Gonzalez Germen. Encarnacion was tagged out in a rundown after the runners scored.
Carter’s widow, Sandy, and daughter, Kimmy, were on hand with former teammates Tim Raines, Steve Rogers and Warren Cromartie for a pregame tribute to perhaps the most popular player in Expos history. Carter won a World Series in 1986 with the Mets.
“The city always embraced Gary, and us as a family” Sandy Carter said. “I really felt that tonight. We made it our home and felt privileged to be here for 11 years.”
Carter died of brain cancer at age 57 in 2010. The City of Montreal named a street after him outside the Expos’ original home, Jarry Park.
“He was a great teammate, a great player, a great competitor,” said Raines, a roving outfield instructor for the Blue Jays. “Him and Andre Dawson taught me the meaning of playing the game. If I didn’t listen to him, Andre Dawson would slap me upside the head.”
Mets third baseman David Wright, a rookie in 2004, called it a fun night.
“It brought back a bunch of memories for me,” Wright said. “My first road trip in the big leagues was to Montreal, my first home run was in Montreal, so it was nice today to reminisce as bit.
“It’s nice for us to be able to come up here and break up spring training a bit, because it gets a little boring down there (in Florida). To come up to a great city with a an obviously hungry fan base – it’s kind of like a dress rehearsal for us. You’ve got the big crowd, you get a little more excited than at a normal spring training game. It’s good practice for Monday (the Mets’ season opener against the Nationals).”
Cromartie leads a movement called the Montreal Baseball Project that is working to get a team back in Montreal, even though estimates are that it would cost more than $1 billion for a team and a new ballpark.
The Expos, who became Canada’s first major league team in 1969, moved to Washington to become the Nationals in 2004 after a decade of fire sales of top players, dwindling attendance and timid ownership.
Cromartie and others are trying to revive baseball interest. They called on Montreal fans to turn out in large numbers to the pre-season games to show that the city will support baseball.
“If people think there are no fans here – you see tonight, the support is here,” Raines said.