- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

The Washington baseball team is seven days old. Is it too early to feel some fan suffering? I think not.

A longstanding practice of less fortunate baseball fans is to watch the playoffs for players who used to be on their team compete to win a championship for another club. There was enough of an Expos presence on the field yesterday, the start of the Division Series, for Washington fans to woefully muse about what might have been.

The biggest fish that got away is, of course, Vladimir Guerrero, who led the Anaheim Angels to the American League West title and is a Most Valuable Player candidate. Guerrero was the AL Player of the Week for the final week of the regular season, leading the league in seven offensive categories, including batting average, with a .560 mark, and home runs, with six.

After averaging 38 home runs and 113 RBI over eight years in Montreal, Guerrero signed a five-year, $70million contract with the Angels. He led that team with 39 home runs, 126 RBI and a .337 average this season.

“He had stretches this year that were as incredible as the last week. … This guy, at times, carries us on his back,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “You have to see him every day to appreciate what he did, and, hopefully, everyone is going to get a chance to see him in this series.”

It would have been nice for Washington fans to see him every day. And perhaps the Expos would be worth closer to the anticipated sale price of $300million if Guerrero still was on the roster.

It could be worse, though, Washington fans. He might have signed with the other team that pursued him during the offseason, the Baltimore Orioles.

Guerrero isn’t the only former Expo on the Angels roster. Today’s starting pitcher, Bartolo Colon, won 10 games for the Expos in the second half of the 2002 season.

But Colon was too expensive for the Expos’ bargain-basement payroll, and he was traded in the offseason to the Chicago White Sox in a three-way deal with the Yankees that sent Orlando Hernandez to Montreal. Hernandez never pitched for Montreal because of a rotator cuff injury; Colon, meanwhile, won 18 games for the Angels this year.

All the Washington baseball team has to show for the Colon trade is reliever Rocky Biddle. Biddle saved 34 games in 2003, but his ERA rose to 6.92 this season and he ended the year with a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

The Angels’ opponent yesterday, the Red Sox, also had a guy on the field Washington baseball fans would have loved to see at RFK Stadium next year: Orlando Cabrera, a Gold Glove shortstop who was the Expos’ MVP in two of the last four seasons.

Cabrera was traded to Boston this season in the deal that sent Nomar Garciaparra to Chicago in another three-way trade. Cabrera batted .264 with 10 home runs, 62 RBI and 16 stolen bases. His glove work is credited for solidifying a suspect Red Sox defense, and he has made Boston fans forget Nomar.

With Cabrera, Jose Vidro at second and a healthy Nick Johnson at first, Washington baseball fans would have been looking at three-quarters of a very good infield.

There are others in the playoffs who once wore an Expos uniform. Silver Spring’s own Curtis Pride made the Angels’ postseason roster as a role player. He was an Expos prospect who was on the roster in 1993 and 1995 and in another stint in 2001. And there was the wild man of Chavez Ravine, Milton Bradley, another Montreal prospect who was on the major league roster in 2000 and 2001.

If you want to take a long trip down memory lane, you could consider the possibilities of two former Expos, today’s Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez and Cardinals outfielder Larry Walker. Then again, if they had remained in Montreal, the Expos would have, as well. That is a pain for Montreal baseball fans to carry, not those in Washington.

Washington baseball fans can ease their discomfort, though, by taking pleasure in the anguish Orioles fans must feel watching these playoffs.

It has been nearly 14 years since they traded Curt Schilling, Steve Finley and Pete Harnisch for Glenn Davis — a pain that never goes away.

Schilling, yesterday’s winning pitcher for the Red Sox, still is one of the dominant pitchers in baseball, going 21-6 for Boston this year. Finley, at 39, remains one of best hitters in the National League. He led the Dodgers to the NL West crown after being traded from Arizona this season, producing 36 home runs and 94 RBI and clinching the division with a walk-off grand slam.

Washington baseball fans, that is no longer your pain. Let it go, and embrace your own: the thought of Vlad Guerrero in right field at RFK Stadium next year.

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