Mike Montgomery hopes the Mets can

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – He begins to believe in a curse. Then he relied on another kind of fate. Baseball has a way of playing with emotions. Ask Mike Montgomery.

People still do. They always do. There are worse things to know than saving Game 7 of the World Series, as Montgomery did with the Cubs. It was a long time before he found himself in minor league camp with the Mets this spring, after a confusing season that took him to the hinterlands of baseball and made Chicago look 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 said last week in Wings of a sports bar here, reminiscent of the brightness of the 2016 title. “I really feel like the stoplights are very fast, there is no need to follow the rules of the road, and if someone pulls me over and I tell them who I am, they don’t care. They will say: ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. Whatever you want, Mr. Montgomery! ‘”

He laughed and shook his head.

“I miss that,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you want that. It will disappear over time, but I think the legacy, over time, will never fail.

Montgomery participated in five of seven World Series games against Cleveland, including a Game 4 loss at Wrigley Field that brought the Cubs down, three games to one. During the game, a line drive tore Montgomery’s glove on his hand, which had never happened before. Confusing, in his mind, is a sign that something is wrong.

Perhaps, Montgomery wondered, the Cubs were truly cursed. Sad that their time was pushed to the edge, he retreated to his apartment in Wrigleyville and played Xbox hockey for hours. When his hockey team followed, 3-1, and came back to win, 4-3, Montgomery had an epiphany-the Cubs, he’s now sure, would do the same.

Stories like these, and the pitch he threw to win the Cubs ’first championship since 1908, will appeal to fans forever. The moment is a standard, a beloved highlight for millions that will give Montgomery a small measure of eternal fame. Like a young star in a beloved television movie, his early career took off in a way that few others have experienced.

When Montgomery got the final out, against Michael Martinez of Cleveland, he became only the eighth player to throw a gold pitch, defined by the Society for American Baseball Research as a pitch that could be won or lost in the World Series. It’s a incredibly unique situation, only possible in Game 7, on the road, in the bottom of the ninth inning or later, when the season could end – one way or another – in a hammock.

Montgomery got the call in the 10th inning, with two outs, a runner in the first, and the Cubs leading, 8-7. Cleveland is no longer on the bench of players, and Manager Joe Maddon correctly predicted that light-hitting Martinez would not be able to hold Montgomery’s curveball. Honestly, Martinez weakly tapped third baseman Kris Bryant, who missed while placing the ball but cleanly collected it. Anthony Rizzo caught Bryant’s throw at first base, Montgomery broke his glove in the air, and a seemingly impossible celebration began.

Imagine the adrenaline rush from a moment like that. There is nothing else to compare.

“You can’t see a thing,” Montgomery said. “You can’t undo what you’ve been through. I can’t sit there and try to drop the fastest bullpen, because you can’t get the same enthusiasm even in a regular season game compared to a World Series.

At 32, Montgomery is one of the oldest players in the prospect part of the Mets complex. He likes to see the hope of players who are not yet tired of the game. The other day, he said, a young teammate asked about Game 7, about Jason Heyward’s speech rallying the Cubs during a rain delay. Montgomery prefers not to live in the past, but he is happy to share, if asked. The old emotions invigorated him.

Even if Jacob deGrom is sidelined forever and Max Scherzer is taking care of a hamstring pain, Montgomery is likely to head to Class AAA Syracuse and have a rotation spot there. He had the same opportunity last year, but when the Mets cut him from the major league camp, he asked to be released and signed with the Yankees, believing they would provide a much better opportunity.

The minor league season began later, and morning bullpen sessions in Moosic, Pa., For the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders didn’t spark Montgomery’s competition. After four starts, he negotiated with Samsung Lions in Daegu, South Korea, for a prorated $ 1 million maximum contract.

In retrospect, Montgomery knew he had to stay with the Mets, finishing with 19 different starting pitchers. And while he was enjoying South Korea with his wife, Stephanie, and their 2-year-old son, Max, time was cut short, with a break for the Olympics, a brief league closure related to coronavirus – and a suspension that is not exact. the umpires will love him.

“Put it that way, they didn’t help me, especially after I threw the rosin bag at the guy,” Montgomery said. “But I didn’t even throw him strikes and balls. I threw it away because he said I was late for the game when I obviously wasn’t.

It was a lost season – on both continents, Montgomery made 15 starts and 3-7 with a 5.90 earned run average – and a painful lesson in how fast the game can leave a player. . The Mets are the only team to offer Montgomery a job this spring.

“It’s like it’s not real sometimes, what we were living in 2016-like,‘ It’s the perfect setup; it’s not normal, ’” says Stephanie Montgomery. “But whatever else you say to yourself , ‘It’s amazing, appreciate every moment,’ when it starts going in the other direction, it’s a shock.

The pair met, indirectly, through a pitcher Montgomery hoped to follow: Jamie Moyer, left-hander with 218 wins after 32. Montgomery was a rookie for Seattle in 2015 when tagged he and Moyer in a tweet. Stephanie liked Moyer’s post, Montgomery noticed, and the relationship grew from there.

Moyer’s tweet has special resonance for Montgomery today: “Left hands usually mature later!” he writes, with the hashtag: #nevergiveuponalefty. The Mets didn’t stop at Montgomery, and he wasn’t in a hurry to stop.

In the winter, Montgomery worked at a new Driveline training center in Phoenix to better understand his pitches. In Syracuse, he should benefit from maintaining a normal routine as a starter – not a swingman, as he is for the Cubs. He’ll never be a power pitcher, but he’ll probably find the old snap of his curveball, the pitch that brings joy to millions and will follow him for the rest of his life.

“I don’t have to be the best pitcher that has ever lived,” Montgomery said. “But I’m at the very best moment that can arguably exist in baseball history, and I’m the only one to excel. That is the goal. Just stay as healthy as I can and play until they no longer give me a jersey. ”

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