ST. LOUIS -- Jordan Montgomery has had one of his most memorable seasons in professional baseball, making 32 starts, enduring a jolting trade from the Yankees to the Cardinals and winning six of nine decisions with St. Louis to put himself in position for a playoff start.
However, that’s not the story Montgomery will tell friends, family and maybe even his own future children when he thinks back to his one-of-a-kind season in 2022.
Montgomery is one of two MLB players who has had an up-close view of two of the most exhilarating home run chases in years -- Yankees slugger Aaron Judge clubbing 61 home runs to tie Roger Maris’ AL record for home runs in a season; and Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols going on an improbable second-half tear to get to 700 home runs and beyond in the final year of his illustrious Hall of Fame-worthy career.
Pitchers usually have a disdain for home runs, but awe-inspiring performances by Judge and Pujols have given Montgomery a true appreciation for what he has witnessed this season.
“I’m definitely going to snag a Pujols jersey and get him to sign before the season is over and I’m sure Judgey will sign one for me, eventually,” Montgomery said after allowing just two runs on four hits and one walk over six innings in the Cardinals' 13-3 defeat of the Pirates on Saturday at Busch Stadium. “I always meant to get one of [Judge’s jerseys] signed because I’ve been collecting [signed jerseys] of favorite teammates and Hall of Famers.
“This is something that not everyone gets to be a part of, and I’ve gotten to be a part of both. It’s incredible.”
Montgomery, a 6-foot-6 left-hander, was a fourth-round Draft pick by the Yankees in 2014, and he spent nine years in that historic franchise’s chain -- three in the Minor Leagues before six seasons with the Yankees. Judge, a first-round pick in 2013, met up with Montgomery in 2016 when they were Triple-A teammates for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Pa.). Judge hit 19 home runs and drove in 65 runs, while Montgomery was 5-1 with a 0.97 ERA in Triple-A -- a foundation both used to vault themselves to the Yankees' MLB club.
“We didn’t come up together because he was ahead of me, but we played in Triple-A a decent amount in ‘16, and then we played in New York together for six years,” Montgomery remembered. “We were definitely close being with each other that long.”
Montgomery’s baseball world was rocked Aug. 2 when he was shockingly traded from the Yankees to the Cardinals for center fielder Harrison Bader. One of the players who helped him transition was Yankees slugger and former Cardinals All-Star Matt Carpenter, who told Montgomery he would love the supportive atmosphere in St. Louis.
Carpenter proved correct as Montgomery quickly adapted to the Cardinals culture, winning his first four starts while wearing the birds on the bat across his chest. Judge had 43 home runs at the time of Montgomery’s trade to St. Louis, and as fate would have it, the two of them faced off four days following the trade. Montgomery kept Judge in the ballpark that night, limiting him to a single in two at-bats against him while the Cardinals beat the Yankees, 1-0.
From afar, Montgomery has kept in contact with Judge, and he’s quietly pulled for the 6-foot-7, 282-pound slugger to break Maris’ home run record.
“He’s such a great baseball player, and it was great to see him tie the record,” Montgomery said. “We’re still waiting on that last one [for the record], and hopefully he can get it in these last [five] games.”
Little did Montgomery know it at the time, but he was joining another historic home run march in St. Louis. Pujols, 42, and in the final of his 22 seasons in the big leagues, had just seven home runs through the first four months of the season, but he proceeded to hit eight in August. One of the most significant ones came Aug. 22 in a 1-0 defeat of the Cubs -- the same night when Montgomery twirled his first career shutout, a one-hitter.
“Albert has given us a jolt,” Montgomery said of the famed slugger. “The offense did great [Saturday] and has been swinging it great, but when Albert gets into one, it gets the boys going a little bit.”
That can be evidenced by the Cardinals going 17-1 this season in games when Pujols homers and 4-0 when he smashes two long balls in a game. He previously joined Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth in the 700 Home Run Club.
“Every record he breaks, it’s someone wild,” Montgomery marveled. “It’s Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb. It’s stuff that you’re never going to hear about ever again.”
Montgomery said undoubtedly he will have numerous stories from 2022 to tell friends and family from the unique perspective of being a part of two historic home run chases with Judge and Pujols.
“It’s been incredible watching Albert, with the career he’s had, what he means to St. Louis and with the fans,” he said. “Every AB, the whole stadium is standing up with their phones out, and it’s so special.
“You don’t see this every day, and I’m definitely soaking it all in.”