One year made big difference for Montgomery

After being traded by Mariners, lefty helps Cubs win WS title

November 29th, 2016

SEATTLE -- A lot can happen in the course of a baseball season.

Just ask , who came to Spring Training with the Mariners in 2016 out of Minor League options and a long shot to land a spot on the 25-man roster ... yet he found himself on the mound recording the final out and picking up his first career save in the Cubs' dramatic 8-7 victory over the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series.

Among the myriad of amazing stories surrounding the Cubs as they won their first title in 108 years, Montgomery cast his own unique tale. The 27-year-old left-hander had never pitched in relief until it became apparent last spring that his path with the Mariners was blocked by six starters ahead of him on the depth chart.

"In Spring Training, I was just trying to prove I belonged in the big leagues," Montgomery said. "It's amazing how one year can change things that way. It's unexpected, which makes it even better. I really loved Seattle. I was shocked when I got traded. I enjoyed being there and I was rooting for those guys to get to the World Series, too.

"I didn't realize what I was getting into here [in Chicago]. It was a little tough at first. We went to Milwaukee and I gave up a homer to the first batter I faced. What are the chances? Fans were all on me the next day and I was like, 'Wow, this is almost a different world I'm getting into.'"

Montgomery flashed considerable potential a year earlier with back-to-back shutouts during a midseason stint with Seattle, but he ended 2015 at Triple-A Tacoma and didn't earn a September callup after going 4-6 with a 4.60 ERA in 16 starts for the Mariners.

Knowing his situation with Seattle was tenuous, Montgomery pondered a contract offer from a team in Japan and was told he had one day to decide his future before choosing to give MLB his best shot one last time.

"With the new front office and everything, I was really excited," Montgomery said. "In spring, they didn't know what to expect from me, but I was as good as I've ever been."

Montgomery said he benefited greatly from his time with new Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., as well as bullpen coach Mike Hampton and manager Scott Servais.

"I remember Mel telling me, 'You have a swing-and-miss breaking ball,'" he said. "I was like, 'I'm more fastball.' But they said, trust us, we've seen a lot of baseball. They just couldn't find a spot for me in the rotation, but I knew there was no way they couldn't find a spot for me somewhere."

When the Mariners moved him to the bullpen, Montgomery pitched extremely well -- posting a 2.34 ERA in 32 outings, including a pair of spot starts around the All-Star break -- before general manager Jerry Dipoto took advantage of Montgomery's growing reputation to trade him to the Cubs on July 20 along with right-hander Jordan Pries for well-regarded first-base prospect and 22-year-old right-hander .

Montgomery picked up where he left off with the Cubs, compiling a 2.82 ERA in 17 appearances, including five starts, then was 1-1 with a 3.14 ERA over 14 1/3 innings in 11 playoff outings.

The biggest, of course, was the World Series finale after the Cubs had gone through starter , ace and closer , not to mention a 17-minute rain delay before scoring twice in the top of the 10th.

Manager Joe Maddon called on right-hander to start the inning and the rookie got two outs, then gave up a walk, a stolen base and run-scoring single before Montgomery was brought in to face switch-hitting .

And all it took was two sweeping curveballs -- the first a called strike and the second producing a weak grounder to third baseman -- for Montgomery to etch his place in one of baseball's biggest moments in history as the Cubs ended their title drought.

"I actually felt terrible warming up," Montgomery said. "I'd thrown the day before and that time of year, you're not feeling necessarily fresh. I couldn't throw a strike in the bullpen. But I just knew I had to throw a curveball in the zone and that's all I had to worry about.

"When he hit it, I thought it'd be an infield it. I didn't know where K.B. was playing. I thought he might be back. Then it hit me that we'd won. It was kind of a blur. I remember it, but it's crazy."

What would be even more crazy?

"I've had fans from Seattle tell me they felt a part of it to see me pitch in the playoffs," Montgomery said. "I really enjoyed my time with the Mariners, so it's cool that people can feel part of it in some way. They've got a good team there.

"Maybe next year we'll see them in the World Series," he said. "That would be awesome."