PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — He began to imagine in a curse. Then he trusted in a distinct type of future. Baseball has a means of toying with feelings. Ask Mike Montgomery.
People nonetheless do. They at all times will. There are worse issues to be recognized for than saving Game 7 of the World Series, as Montgomery as soon as did for the Cubs. That was lengthy earlier than he discovered himself in minor league camp with the Mets this spring, after a dizzying season that took him to the baseball hinterlands and made Chicago really feel like a dream.
“I remember I got a car from a dealership there, like, ‘Hey, please drive our car,’ and it was like a $100,000 Lexus,” Montgomery stated final week over wings at a sports activities bar right here, recalling the afterglow of the 2016 title. “I really felt like I could pretty much run stoplights, not have to follow the rules of the road, and if someone pulled me over and I told them who I was, they wouldn’t care. They’d be like: ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. Whatever you want, Mr. Montgomery!’”
He laughed and shook his head.
“I do miss that,” he stated. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you want that. It fizzles out over time, but I think the legacy, as time goes on, will never fizzle out.”
Montgomery pitched in 5 of the seven World Series video games towards Cleveland, together with the Game 4 loss at Wrigley Field that put the Cubs down, three video games to one. During that recreation, a line drive tore Montgomery’s glove off his hand, which had by no means occurred earlier than. It was unsettling, he thought, an indication that one thing wasn’t proper.
Maybe, Montgomery questioned, the Cubs actually have been cursed. Despondent that their season had been pushed to the brink, he retreated to his Wrigleyville residence and performed hockey on Xbox for hours. When his hockey group trailed, 3-1, and got here again to win, 4-3, Montgomery had an epiphany — the Cubs, he was now sure, would do the identical.
Stories like these, and the pitch he threw to clinch the Cubs’ first championship since 1908, will enthrall followers ceaselessly. The second is a touchstone, a cherished spotlight for tens of millions that can give Montgomery a small measure of perpetual fame. Like a toddler star of a beloved tv present, his profession peaked early in a means few others have skilled.
When Montgomery acquired that closing out, towards Cleveland’s Michael Martinez, he turned solely the eighth participant to throw a golden pitch, outlined by the Society for American Baseball Research as a pitch that might both win or lose the World Series. It is an exquisitely uncommon state of affairs, potential solely in Game 7, on the street, in the backside of the ninth inning or later, when the season may finish — a technique or one other — on one swing.
Montgomery acquired the name in the tenth inning, with two outs, a runner on first, and the Cubs forward, 8-7. Cleveland was out of bench gamers, and Manager Joe Maddon guessed appropriately that the light-hitting Martinez couldn’t deal with Montgomery’s curveball. Sure sufficient, Martinez tapped weakly to third baseman Kris Bryant, who slipped whereas fielding the ball however gathered it cleanly. Anthony Rizzo caught Bryant’s throw at first base, Montgomery flipped his glove in the air, and a celebration that lengthy appeared unimaginable was underway.
Imagine the adrenaline rush from a second like that. Nothing else can examine.
“You can’t unsee something,” Montgomery stated. “You can’t undo what you’ve been through. I can’t sit there and try to throw max speeds in bullpens, because you just can’t get that same intensity of even a regular-season game compared to a World Series.”
At 32, Montgomery is one in every of the oldest gamers on the prospect aspect of the Mets’ complicated. He likes seeing the hope in gamers not but jaded by the recreation. Just the different day, he stated, a younger teammate requested about Game 7, about Jason Heyward’s speech that rallied the Cubs throughout a rain delay. Montgomery would reasonably not stay in the previous, however he’s comfortable to share, if requested. The outdated feelings invigorate him.
Even with Jacob deGrom sidelined indefinitely and Max Scherzer nursing a sore hamstring, Montgomery is probably going headed for Class AAA Syracuse and a spot in the rotation there. He had the identical probability final yr, however when the Mets minimize him from main league camp, he requested for his launch and signed with the Yankees, believing they’d supply a greater alternative.
The minor league season began late, and morning bullpen periods in Moosic, Pa., for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders didn’t stoke Montgomery’s competitiveness. After 4 begins, he took a cope with the Samsung Lions in Daegu, South Korea, for the prorated $1 million most contract.
Looking again, Montgomery is aware of he ought to have stayed with the Mets, who wound up utilizing 19 completely different beginning pitchers. And whereas he loved South Korea together with his spouse, Stephanie, and their 2-year-old son, Max, the season was disjointed, with a break for the Olympics, a short coronavirus-related league shutdown — and a suspension that didn’t precisely endear him to the umpires.
“Put it this way, they weren’t helping me, especially after I threw the rosin bag at the guy,” Montgomery stated. “But I didn’t even throw it at him for strikes and balls. I threw it at him because he said I had a delay of game when I clearly didn’t.”
It was a misplaced season — throughout two continents, Montgomery made 15 begins and was 3-7 with a 5.90 earned run common — and a painful lesson in how shortly the recreation can go away a participant behind. The Mets have been the solely group to supply Montgomery a job this spring.
“It was like it wasn’t even real sometimes, what we were living through in 2016 — like, ‘This is the perfect setup; this isn’t normal,’” Stephanie Montgomery stated. “But no matter how much you tell yourself, ‘This is incredible, appreciate every moment,’ when it starts to go in a different direction, it’s still a shock.”
The couple met, not directly, by way of a pitcher Montgomery hopes to emulate: Jamie Moyer, the left-hander who had 218 wins after turning 32. Montgomery was a rookie for Seattle in 2015 when Moyer tagged him in a tweet. Stephanie favored Moyer’s put up, Montgomery seen, and the relationship grew from there.
Moyer’s tweet has particular resonance for Montgomery now: “left-handers usually mature later!” he wrote, with a hashtag: #nevergiveuponalefty. The Mets haven’t given up on Montgomery, and he’s in no hurry to cease.
Over the winter, Montgomery labored at a brand new Driveline coaching heart in Phoenix to higher perceive his pitches. At Syracuse, he ought to profit from lastly resuming a standard routine as a starter — not a swingman, as he was for the Cubs. He won’t ever be an influence pitcher, however perhaps he can discover the outdated snap on his curveball, the pitch that introduced pleasure to tens of millions and can observe him for the remainder of his life.
“I don’t got to be the best pitcher to ever live,” Montgomery stated. “But I’ve been in the best moment that’s arguably ever existed in baseball history, and I’m just going to outlast everybody. That’s the goal. Just stay healthy as long as I can and play until they won’t give me a jersey anymore.”