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WAS (Not WAS)

Amen, brother. Sayeth His Coheniness, “Pedro’s been described as a diva. What he is is a maestro.”

No disrespect to Martinez, Mientkiewicz and all who made Thursday night necessary, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two squads played back-to-back blowouts. It’s hard to take games in Florida seriously given that every name they slap on the erstwhile True Playa Pimp Park is worse than the one before it. Dolphins Stadium? For baseball? To Wayne Huizenga, who eviscerated the Marlins, sold them and then sticks it to them every chance he gets from his perch as owner of the Miami football team, I would ask, have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Dolphins Stadium? Have you left no sense of decency?

Screw the Marlins. On to the Nationals.

The Nationals?

Like everything that’s new, this seems weird, but probably won’t be by the time our first game against them is over. By 10 o’clock Friday night, I’ll have had enough of the Washington Nationals to last me a lifetime, and it will seem perfectly normal to have it in for a team, a city and a following that didn’t exist in the National League East until a few weeks ago.

I already don’t like them. I don’t like anybody in our division (it’s the nature of the beast), but I don’t like that they’ve gotten to take up even temporary residence in first place while we flail around the .500 mark. I don’t like that they could suddenly afford Cristian Guzman who couldn’t get the last out against the Braves Thursday afternoon. I don’t like that a bunch of D.C. phonies who didn’t know Brian Schneider from Brad Wilkerson now presents each as sterling examples of young, American manhood. I don’t like that their stadium is older than ours but will get a free pass all year because it’s not The Big O. And I don’t like that their new stadium is scheduled to be up and running when our old one will still be down and deteriorating.

Beyond all that, I hate that they’ve disappeared the Expos.

Where did our MON go? Used to be you could open any National League pocket schedule and MON would take its rightful place among PHI and ATL and FLA. Now MON has become WAS or WSH. We are told it’s a good thing.

Maybe it is. Maybe a city in another country that couldn’t or wouldn’t get its act together to support a team doesn’t deserve the game. Maybe it was misguided to think a place where English is the second language and Spanish isn’t in the top two would be a baseball town. Maybe you can’t argue with a decade of desolation and despair and how the Mets’ “final-ever visit” to Olympic Stadium became an annual event, thus a running joke.

But it’s wrong somehow. It’s wrong that the Washington Nationals and not the Montreal Expos are coming to Shea Friday night. It’s a hole in the fabric of our summer not to find MON on that patchwork quilt of boxes on the schedule. It’s wrong that 36 years of honorable opposition has been wiped away so Tim Russert doesn’t have to drive his kid to Baltimore to take in a game.

Don’t misunderstand where I’m coming from. I didn’t like the Expos any more than I like the Nationals. They were an opponent, and as such, they were my enemy for every inning that they got in our way. But a mature fan can take a step back and appreciate a permanently vanquished foe, even if we had nothing to with their ultimate demise.

I always had the deep-seated feeling we understood each other on some innate level. I’ve never gotten that feeling about the Mets and the Marlins or the Mets and the Phillies or the Mets and anybody else. Let’s just say the Expos and us, we were a good match.

By now everybody who cares knows the Expos’ first-ever game in 1969 was against us (they won) and that their last-ever game in 2004 was against us (we won). I’m guessing, though, it’s not common knowledge that we consistently traded victories back and forth in between. The Mets and Expos threw down 597 times. The final tally: Mets 299 Expos 298. The Seaway Series wasn’t decided until last October 3. For that matter, that finale was my 25th Expos @ Mets game. The Log tells me I went 13-12 against Montreal. Again, close as close can be.

Those who weren’t as intimate with the Expos as we were probably wouldn’t appreciate how good and how annoying they were over the final years of their lives. To the rest of the world, which stopped paying attention after 1994, Montreal was the touring cast of Les Misérables. The poor things didn’t have a home and didn’t have a chance, especially after being threatened with contraction and becoming wards of MLB. But to us, they were gnats long before they were Nats.

Dwell on the names that graced Expos rosters between 1995 and 2004 — besides Vlad and Vidro and a couple of pitchers who weren’t provincial secrets. They weren’t pitiful. They were low-rent assassins.

Rondell White…Mark Grudzielanek…Mike Lansing…Darrin Fletcher…F.P. Santangelo…Brad Fullmer…Shane Andrews…Michael Barrett…Peter Bergeron…Orlando Cabrera…Milton Bradley…Geoff Blum…Endy Bleeping Chavez.

Ordinary players? To the Braves, maybe. To the Phillies, perhaps. To us, they were in our face and up our ass every single series. There was no such thing as an easy Expos game. Whatever they lacked in resources or didn’t display in skill the other 143 days of the year, they almost always brought against us. The 1998 Wild Card would be ours if not for the Expos. There were at least four horrible losses to them at Shea that year (two in July, two in September) that couldn’t have come against anybody else.

And I miss them? Well, yeah, at least as a concept. It’s not like we get 19 free wins now. We still have to play the team that used to be them. By all indications, the Natspos/Exponentials will finally get sold and eventually get stronger. Then they’ll truly be just another opponent, something the Expos never quite were.

I’ve heard the actual National players thank their maker that they no longer have to be Expos. Given what they’ve endured, that’s understandable. But no Expos means we’re missing more than we quite grasp, much of it ethereal stuff that didn’t show up in the box score and sure as hell won’t now.

No Youpii. No empty lumber yard where 4,000 could sound like 40,000. No stories about Jeff Kent getting caught going through customs with a firearm because he plum forgot he was packing. No going through customs at all. No side trips to San Juan. No references to Boots Day or BOC-a-BELL-a or how the sun got in the eyes of the first baseman at Parc Jarry. No smoked meat on the menu. No “O Canada!” No “Our Home and Native Land!” No little “e” curling up and into a tri-colored “M”. No explanation that Expo stood for Expo 67. No cosmic link between a team named for a World’s Fair and a team that set up shop next door to one. No bond between expansion teams, one born the same year the other grew up. No shuttle that sent Clendenon, Staub and Carter south and Reardon north, each side going to playoffs because of those proto-NAFTA moves. No 598th game between the Mets and the Expos. No discovering at last who gets to 300 wins first.

Never mind Montreal. Our Expos don’t exist any longer. The 19 beats in the rhythm of the season that came with a French accent have been stilled. The Montreal Expos are latter-day St. Louis Browns now. They’re a nostalgia act, a featured item on the throwback-team page of the next memorabilia catalogue that comes in the mail.

But not to me. In my heart, they’ll always be on our schedule.