The last time we saw Mike Montgomery start a ballgame, it didn't go so hot. He was the unlucky Cub to get the call in a 15-2 defeat to the Brewers on September 9. After lasting just two innings in that one, he was sent to the bullpen, with the hope that after one start by Jen-Ho Tseng, Jake Arrieta may return to the rotation and Montgomery could help hold down the 'pen. Well, Arrieta has not yet returned yet, and Montgomery was called on again to start against the Tampa Bay Rays and Chris Archer.
And man, did he make the most of it.
Actually, both starters were pretty solid, as Chris Archer kept the streaking Cubs offense mostly in check. He got the Cubs out 1-2-3 in the first inning, including a strike out of Anthony Rizzo to end the inning. Montgomery's first inning started out much shakier, as he actually hit lead-off batter Kevin Kiermaier with a pitch. Kiermaier would advance to second on a flyout, and with two outs tried to make something happen by taking off for third. The Willson Contreras/Javy Baez combo made for a gorgeous throw-and-tag to end the inning.
Montgomery got a run in the top of the second when Kyle Schwarber launched a 482 mph, 7842 foot home run to right center. Okay, so it was really only 114.3 mph and 446 feet. Close enough. At any rate, the Cubs held a 1-0 lead.
Both pitchers settled in, with only two base runners reaching between the two teams in innings 3 and 4. Jason Heyward, who has shown some life of late, led off the top of the fifth with a single. He would be out one batter later on a fielder's choice by Addison Russell. Archer appeared to hang a breaking ball to Javier Baez, who ripped a ball down the line for a double. It was bobbled a bit by the left fielder, Corey Dickerson, and then misplayed again slightly by shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Russell was able to score without a throw, and the Cubs led 2-0.
Montgomery's no-no lasted into the sixth inning, when 1980s-style, stirrup-wearing Brad Miller lifted a fly ball to deep right-center. The ball cleared the wall, and the lead was cut in half. Montgomery finished out the inning, and was lifted in favor of Pedro Strop. Likewise, Archer was removed after six innings of solid work before the Rays bullpen took over.
After that, there wasn't a ton of action. The Cubs trio of Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., and Wade Davis closed out the last three innings, combining to strike out 5 batters, and allowing nobody to work. Davis was particularly impressive in the 9th, striking out the side (though he did get a favorable call with Kiermaier batting). The Cubs, for their part, didn't really threaten to score, though Willson Contreras did smack a double to left in the ninth with one out. There had been a little bit of excitement in the 7th, when Ian Happ ripped a single to right that was bobbled by Steven Souza Jr. He recovered to make a solid throw to second, and Happ was called out on a close play. To me, it appeared as though Happ's hand reached second a smidgen before he was tagged, but the ruling was upheld upon review. Addison Russell was also robbed of extra bases on a nice play by Kiermaier (that's a really annoying name to spell this many times, you know?) If that's the worst of things to happen, I can deal. It's not like we had to deal with a 7.1 earthquake, category-5 hurricane, or the possible rapture.
This and That
The Cubs don't get to Tampa very often, of course, so it was an interesting night. Joe Maddon was honored for his time with the Rays, and that was nice. However, playing the Rays gave me the opportunity to listen to an old friend, if only for a short while while switching the broadcast on MLB.tv. For those of us that have been around for a while, you might remember Dewayne Staats, who used to fill in on WGN during the middle innings when Harry went to the radio booth. It was during this time that I began watching games. In those early years of my fandom, listening to Dewayne and Steve Stone swap puns were almost as memorable as the innings that Harry called games. Staats got to call the 1989 season that saw the Cubs win the division, and those memories are some of my favorite from late childhood. It's pretty cool that he's been able to be THE guy since the very beginning in Tampa - I really enjoyed him as a kid.
Three Stars of the Game
Javy Baez had a big double that ultimately provided the winning run in this game. Still, the tag that he made on the Contreras throw on the attempted steal was a thing of beauty. It's almost as though there was some divine intervention, as Baez was playing third for Kris Bryant, who got the night off. Why not have those two combine for one of their signature defensive plays in a close game?
I didn't really do Kyle Schwarber's home run justice. Any description of it is like using tympani instead of cannons during the 1812 overture. You have to see and hear the real thing. It's worth it just to watch the reaction from Archer, who, in that moment, surely felt responsible for the potential deaths of dozens of bleacher fans.
Mike Montgomery is one of those glue guys that a successful team needs. Honestly, where would this team have been without him this year? At times he held the bullpen together, but for the majority of the season he's provided an arm in the bullpen when others have gone down to injury. I mean, does anybody remember that Brett Anderson started this season in the rotation? And what would have happened had Montgomery had not been here when Lackey, Hendricks, and Arrieta have missed time due to injury? Tonight he tossed 6 innings of 1-hit, 1-run ball. I'll take that from a fifth, sixth, seventh - whatever starter you want to call him.
Pittsburgh failed to live up to their name on "Talk Like a Pirate Day," and were keelhauled by the Brewers, 1-0. With the Cubs winning now seven straight games, it's looking more and more like the Brewers' most likely path to the playoffs is through the second wild card. "Team to beat" St. Louis (sorry, I'm kind of a jerk) looks like they'll pull out a 1oth inning win against Cincinnati to remain 6 games back in the division.
Tomorrow night the Cubs will send Jon Lester to the mound for a potential sweep of the two-game series. He'll be faced by lefty Blake Snell. Let's win that one, and keep our fate in our own hands, shall we?
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