CHICAGO -- One of the reasons Miguel Montero lost playing time this year was because of the emergence of Willson Contreras. On Saturday night, Contreras' presence in the Cubs' dugout was the reason Montero had a chance to hit, and he did so in grand fashion.With Game 1 of the
CHICAGO -- One of the reasons Miguel Montero lost playing time this year was because of the emergence of Willson Contreras. On Saturday night, Contreras' presence in the Cubs' dugout was the reason Montero had a chance to hit, and he did so in grand fashion.
With Game 1 of the National League Championship Series (Game 2, Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on FS1) between the Cubs and Dodgers tied at 3, Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts called on right-hander Joe Blanton. Switch-hitter Ben Zobrist doubled to lead off, and one out later, Jason Heyward was intentionally walked. Blanton got Javier Báez to fly out, and Chris Coghlan, who was 8-for-17 against the Dodgers' reliever, was intentionally walked to load the bases and bring up closer Aroldis Chapman.
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The Cubs had the left-handed-hitting Montero and right-handed-hitting Contreras on the bench.
Grand slams mean 40% off pizza
"I never thought they were going to let the right-hander stay, and I don't think Joe [Maddon] did either," Montero said. "But I kind of looked in a couple times and I didn't see the manager come out and I'm like, 'Yeah, awesome,' because I was ready to hit."
Montero joked that he warmed up by getting in and out of the hot tub about 17 times. Whatever he did, it worked. He drove an 0-2 slider into the right-field bleachers for a grand slam and a 7-3 lead. It was his first career postseason home run.
Montero hit it really good. In fact, at 105.3 mph off the bat, according to Statcast™, it was his hardest-hit homer of the year.
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Montero's shot was the third pinch-hit grand slam in postseason history, following the Reds' Mark Lewis in Game 3 of the 1995 NL Division Series (also vs. the Dodgers) and the Yankees' Ricky Ledee in Game 4 of the 1999 American League Championship Series (vs. the Red Sox). Montero's was the only one of the three that gave his team the lead.
Dexter Fowler followed with a solo home run, and the Cubs held on for an 8-4 victory.
By walking Coghlan, the Dodgers put the tie-breaking run at third. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had faith in Blanton, who led the team in appearances this season.
"I know Joe's going to throw strikes," Roberts said, "and so to then walk Coghlan, to then bring up Montero, if I go to a left-hander [Grant Dayton] they bring in Contreras. So, right there, there's really no matchup advantage. It's more of I trust Joe.
"I've trusted him all year long. He's been great for us, and he got ahead 0-2 and left a pitch up," Roberts said. "So, again, at that point in time, you know they've got to bring in [Hector] Rondon. And so I felt good for us to win the game if we could get out of that inning. And it just didn't work out."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he didn't know what Roberts would do to counter Montero.
"Blanton has been their guy, and Contreras was available," Maddon said. "So was [right-handed-hitting Albert Almora Jr.]. We had a way to go on that, too. I would think, just based on the success of Blanton this year, that was probably it. I didn't know what they were going to do, but we just had to be ready for either thing, which was not different than what we had done in San Francisco."
Maddon was referring to the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NL Division Series against the Giants, when San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy made four pitching changes, only to see them backfire.
How big was the home run? Montero's homer marked the first time in Major League history that a pinch-hit grand slam provided the game-winning run in a postseason game.
Blanton threw a slider on the first pitch to Montero.
"Obviously, after the first pitch, I'm looking something middle, middle in, and he threw me that slider," Montero said. "It was a really good pitch to hit, and I missed it. And in my mind, I was like, 'oh, my God, I missed that.' That was a perfect pitch to hit. But you have to step out of the box and just pull yourself together and try -- all I was trying to do was get a base hit. Don't strike out right here. Get a good pitch and try to put the ball in play and make something happen.
"But to be honest, in the back of my head, I was like, 'I want that slider back,' because it was such a good pitch to hit," Montero said. "And I guess he heard me because he threw it back, and luckily I hit the ball pretty good."
He hit it really good.
"I thought the roof was coming down from the fans jumping," Baez said. "I don't think anybody saw Dexter Fowler homer because they were still jumping."
This has been a difficult season for Montero, 33, who began the year as the Cubs' everyday catcher, only to be asked to step aside and mentor Contreras. It hurt when Montero was no longer matched up with Jake Arrieta, who threw a no-hitter in August 2015 against the Dodgers with Montero behind the plate.
"For [David] Ross, it's a little bit easier," Montero said. "He knows if [Jon] Lester is pitching, he's in there. If Arrieta is pitching, and I'm not in there, when am I going to be in there?"
Instead, Montero has found other ways to contribute, such as Saturday night's big at-bat. Who knows, he could be catching when the Cubs make the last out to win the World Series.
"People have asked me this before, and I say, 'I may have had a bad year, but I might be MVP of the World Series,'" Montero said. "You never know. Then, nobody's going to remember what I did in the regular season. Like today, you think people remember what I did three months ago or the last six months? I came up with a big home run. That's the beauty of baseball. You just have to take it one day at a time and take what they give you."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.