The Curse of Youppi!

Former Montréal Expos mascot Youppi!, who transitioned to representing the Montréal Canadiens NHL franchise after the Expos moved to Washington, D.C. following the 2004 season, celebrated his 40th birthday over the weekend. Various mascots from around the NHL and MLB sent well wishes, and former rival mascot Mr. Met was on hand for the festivities at Bell Centre in Montréal.

Youppi! had an eventful career with the Expos, becoming the first mascot to be ejected from an MLB game during a 22-inning marathon against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1989. The Dodgers went on to win by a final score of 1-0. See here for a great write-up of a game that would have gone much differently had replay review existed in 1989, as well as the people behind the mascot.

While longtime baseball fans may be aware of Youppi!’s ejection, they may not be aware of his involvement with a supposed baseball curse on the franchise after moving to Washington. This curse is much less discussed than famous curses involving larger market franchises such as the Boston Red Sox’s Curse of the Bambino and the Chicago Cubs’ Curse of the Billy Goat.

Sad DC sports fans blamed Youppi! for their teams’ myriad failures by claiming that he placed a curse on all Washington sports franchises when the Expos moved to Washington in the winter of 2004, and Montrealers were happy to take credit. It does not appear that the curse has affected all Washington franchises, as the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup Finals in 2018. However, the Nationals are well-known for playoff failures despite having young stars such as SP Stephen Strasburg and OF Bryce Harper. Although the Nats have made four playoff appearances in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017, the team has not advanced past the Division Series round.

Chicago Cubs fans will remember the most recent Division Series for both the Cubs and Nationals in 2017. Due to failures in execution by the Cubs, the series went to a decisive fifth game at Nationals Park in DC, which the Cubs won by a final score of 9-8 in a wild, lengthy battle. A total of fourteen pitchers appeared in the game, which was saved by RP Wade Davis for the Cubs, who pitched 2.1 innings in a repeat of Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s “ride the closer” playoff strategy that nearly backfired in the 2016 World Series.

The Cubs were behind in the game by a score of 4-3 until the 5th inning, when star SP and perennial Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer came on in relief. The Cubs scored four runs (two earned) on three hits (with two outs in the inning!) to take the lead thanks to some Nationals miscues that were no fault of the estimable Scherzer (except hitting OF Jon Jay with the bases loaded). If you watch the inning, it’s not hard to believe that Washington could have gotten on the wrong side of the baseball gods. If anything, the Nationals deserve to be cursed for ripping off the extremely bland Walgreens logo.

The Cubs tacked on more runs in the 6th and 7th innings of the game. While the Nats were able to continue scoring and pull within one run, they failed to knock off the defending World Series champs thanks to a timely pickoff of C Jose Lobaton by C Willson Contreras to end the Nationals’ threat in the bottom in the 8th, supplementing a gritty pitching performance by Davis.

The Nationals failed to make the playoffs in 2018, and their hopes for making a run at an NL East division title were dashed by the Cubs in the game started by Scherzer which was ended by utility player David Bote’s walkoff grand slam off Nats RP Ryan Madson.

While the Nats are not expected to be able to resign star OF Bryce Harper in free agency this winter, they have attempted to bolster the roster in hopes of another playoff run in 2019 with the addition of top free-agent SP Patrick Corbin. Will the Curse of Youppi! continue?

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