To catch popup bunt, Montgomery 'blacked out and went for it'

October 3rd, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was easy to be wowed by what Rangers starting pitcher did on the mound in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series vs. the Rays at Tropicana Field on Tuesday.

But before he turned in seven shutout innings in the 4-0 victory, Montgomery impressed his teammates -- and himself -- with a diving catch that set the tone for Texas’ triumph.

“I think I was just as shocked as everybody in the stands,” Montgomery said about making the play.

The play came in the bottom of the second inning as the Rays mounted one of their biggest threats of the afternoon against the left-hander, placing runners on the corners with one out. Montgomery dealt a 1-0 fastball above the zone to Jose Siri, who squared around to bunt and popped the pitch up near the first-base line.

Montgomery understood he had no time to waste.

“I knew [first baseman Nathaniel Lowe] was playing back, so it was my ball,” he said. “I saw it high enough in the air, kind of made two quick steps at it, and then kind of just blacked out and went for it.”

The 6-foot-6, 228-pound pitcher lunged forward, stretched out his glove and came crashing back down to the turf right next to the foul line, ball secured.

“Yeah, it wasn't a soft landing, was it?” Bochy said with a smile. “He's a big fella.”

“I don't know if I've done that since I was 12,” Montgomery said.

Lowe mouthed “Wow” to his starter following the show of athleticism. He wasn’t the only Ranger left in awe.

“That was electric. That fired me up,” rookie outfielder Evan Carter said. “... And especially for somebody who's 6'6", a big guy, moving really well to get over there. It was awesome.”

Montgomery landed on his right hip with his side caked in dirt, and said his hands “were cut up a little bit.” Bochy, a team trainer and the entire Rangers infield gathered around the mound as their starter made his way back up. After a few practice pitches, Montgomery assured everyone that he was all right.

“I think they just wanted to give me a breather and let me clean off,” he said.

Montgomery struck out catcher René Pinto to end the threat. He returned for the third inning with a new uniform, but his stuff remained sharp. Following the bunt, Montgomery retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced, allowing only three hard-hit balls in play.

He was efficient, too; Montgomery began the seventh inning at just 75 pitches. He finished that frame by getting pinch-hitter Junior Caminero to whiff at a curve off of the outside corner for his fifth strikeout of the game, and his fourth K off a curveball.

With his task complete, Montgomery roared toward the Rangers’ dugout as he stomped off the mound.

“I figured he was probably my last hitter, so I didn't want to put whoever was in the bullpen in a sticky situation,” he said. “I wanted to kind of close the door right there.”

Prior to Tuesday, the 30-year-old had made only one postseason start: A four-inning outing with the Yankees against the Rays in 2020. His second one saw him become just the third starter in Rangers franchise history to toss seven scoreless innings in a playoff game, joining fellow southpaws Cliff Lee (2010 ALCS) and Derek Holland (2011 World Series). It was also the Rangers’ first postseason shutout since that Fall Classic.

“Any time you're in a series like this, that's always a good thing when your starter does a good job and gets you deep in the game the way he did,” Bochy said of Montgomery. “... A really great effort by him.”

Montgomery spared no effort in what he called the most rewarding start of his seven-year career. He got a lot of help from teammates such as Carter, who made his own diving grab to close the first inning. But on this day, it was Montgomery who was best both on the mound and, for one memorable moment, off of it as well.

“Just shows you how competitive he is, to go out there and dive for that ball,” Bochy said.