PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — He began to believe in a curse. Then he trusted another kind of fate. Baseball has a way of playing with emotions. Ask Mike Montgomery.
People still do it. They always will. There are worse things to know than saving Game 7 of the World Series, like Montgomery once did for the Cubs. That was long before he found himself in a minor league camp with the Mets this spring, after a dizzying season that took him into baseball’s backcountry and made Chicago a dream come true.
“I remember buying a car from a dealership there, like, ‘Hey, please drive our car,’ and it was like a $100,000 Lexus,” Montgomery said. last week backstage at a sports bar here, recalling the afterglow of the 2016 title. “I really felt like I could pretty much run red lights, not have to follow the rules of the road, and if someone stopped me and I told them who I was, they They wouldn’t care. They’d be like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that. Whatever you want, Mr. Montgomery!’
He laughed and shook his head.
“I miss it,” he said. “No matter who you are, you want it. It fades over time, but I think the legacy, over time, will never fade.
Montgomery pitched five of seven World Series games against Cleveland, including the Game 4 loss at Wrigley Field that put the Cubs down three games to one. During that match, a line drive ripped Montgomery’s glove from his hand, something that had never happened before. It was disturbing, he thought, a sign that something was wrong.
Maybe, Montgomery wondered, the Cubs were really cursed. Disheartened that their season had been pushed to the brink, he retreated to his Wrigleyville apartment and played Xbox hockey for hours. When his hockey team trailed, 3-1, and came back to win, 4-3, Montgomery had an epiphany – the Cubs, he was now certain, would do the same.
Stories like these, and the pitch he threw to win the Cubs’ first championship since 1908, will captivate fans forever. The moment is a touchstone, a cherished high point for millions that will give Montgomery a small measure of perpetual fame. Like a child star of a beloved TV show, his career peaked early in a way few others have.
When Montgomery won that final, over Cleveland’s Michael Martinez, he became just the eighth player to throw a golden pitch, defined by the Society for American Baseball Research as a pitch that could win or lose the World Series. It’s an extremely rare situation, only possible in Game 7, on the road, late in the ninth inning, or later when the season might end – one way or another – on a swing.
Montgomery got the call in the 10th inning, two out, runner first, and the Cubs ahead, 8-7. Cleveland was out of bench players, and manager Joe Maddon guessed correctly that light hitter Martinez couldn’t handle Montgomery’s curveball. Sure enough, Martinez tapped weakly on third baseman Kris Bryant, who slipped while delivering the ball but collected it cleanly. Anthony Rizzo caught Bryant’s throw at first base, Montgomery flipped his glove in the air and a celebration that had long seemed impossible was underway.
Imagine the adrenaline rush of a moment like this. Nothing else can compare.
“You can’t ignore something,” Montgomery said. “You can’t undo what you’ve been through. I can’t just sit there and try to hit top speeds in the relievers because you just can’t get the same intensity even out of a regular season game versus a World Series.
At 32, Montgomery is one of the oldest players on the prospect side of the Mets complex. He likes to see hope in players not yet jaded by the game. The other day, he said, a young teammate asked about Game 7, about Jason Heyward’s speech which rallied the Cubs during a rain delay. Montgomery would rather not live in the past, but he is happy to share, if asked. Old emotions reinvigorate him.
Even with Jacob deGrom sidelined indefinitely and Max Scherzer nursing a sore hamstring, Montgomery is likely heading to Class AAA Syracuse and a spot in the rotation there. He had the same luck last year, but when the Mets kicked him out of major league camp, he asked for his release and signed with the Yankees, believing they would offer a better opportunity.
The minor league season started late, and morning bullpen sessions in Moosic, Pa., for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders didn’t stoke Montgomery’s competitiveness. After four starts, he reached a deal with the Samsung Lions in Daegu, South Korea, for the maximum contract of $1 million on a prorated basis.
Looking back, Montgomery knows he should have stayed with the Mets, who ended up using 19 different starting pitchers. And while he was enjoying South Korea with his wife, Stephanie, and their 2-year-old son, Max, the season was scrappy, with a break for the Olympics, a brief league hiatus related to the coronavirus – and a suspension that didn’t exactly endear him to umpires.
“In other words, they weren’t helping me, especially after I threw the bag of rosin at the guy,” Montgomery said. “But I didn’t even throw it at him for strikes and balls. I threw it at him because he said I was behind when I clearly wasn’t.
It was a wasted season — on two continents, Montgomery made 15 starts and was 3-7 with a 5.90 ERA — and a painful lesson in how quickly the game can leave a player behind. The Mets were the only team to offer Montgomery a job this spring.
“It felt like it wasn’t even real sometimes, what we were going through in 2016 — like, ‘This is the perfect setup; this isn’t normal,'” Stephanie Montgomery said. you’re like, ‘This is amazing, enjoy every moment’, when it starts to go in a different direction, it’s always a shock.”
The pair met, indirectly, through a pitcher Montgomery hopes to emulate: Jamie Moyer, the southpaw who has 218 wins after turning 32. Montgomery was a rookie for Seattle in 2015 when Moyer tagged him in a tweet. Stephanie liked Moyer’s post, Montgomery noted, and the relationship grew from there.
Moyer’s tweet now has a special resonance for Montgomery: “lefties usually mature later!” he wrote, with a hashtag: #nevergiveuponalefty. The Mets haven’t given up on Montgomery, and he’s in no rush to quit.
Over the winter, Montgomery worked at a new Driveline training facility in Phoenix to better understand his locations. At Syracuse, he should benefit from finally getting back to a normal routine as a starter — not a swingman, like he was for the Cubs. He’ll never be a power pitcher, but maybe he can find the old snap on his curveball, the pitch that made millions happy and will follow him for the rest of his life.
“I don’t have to be the greatest pitcher of all time,” Montgomery said. “But I’ve had the best time that’s ever been in baseball history, and I’m just going to outlast everybody. That’s the goal. Stay healthy as long as I can and play until so that they don’t give me a jersey anymore.