Montgomery makes must-win playoff debut

Lefty yet to appear in postseason: 'I've been waiting since 2017'

October 8th, 2020

has been dreaming of this moment for three years.

Maybe the 27-year-old wasn’t expecting his postseason debut to come with the added pressure of the Yankees’ 2020 season being on the line, but those are the cards he’s been dealt after New York’s 8-4 loss to Tampa Bay in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday night. And as the club faces potential elimination on Thursday in San Diego, Montgomery will be ready to get the ball.

“I’m excited to get the opportunity,” Montgomery said. “I’ve been waiting since 2017, especially since I got hurt. So I’m really excited to go out there and just pitch again.”

Montgomery made a name for himself in 2017, pitching to a 3.88 ERA in 155 1/3 innings (29 starts). He earned his way onto the ’17 playoff roster but never was called in to toe the rubber in any of the 13 postseason games. Montgomery was then sidelined after six starts in 2018 until the end of ’19 due to Tommy John surgery (New York made the postseason both years). Now he’ll finally have his shot.

“This is what I’ve been working, really, my whole career for,” Montgomery said. “Especially when you haven’t been out there in a while, you get a little antsy and you feel like you want to get out there even more.”

The last time Montgomery was on the mound was Sept. 24, against the Blue Jays, which will result in 13 days of rest before his outing on Thursday -- aside from a quick warmup in the bullpen during the Wild Card Series in Cleveland.

“I’ve been staying ready mentally since I got in the bullpen,” Montgomery said. “This deep into the season, I’m pretty confident about where I’m at right now.”

Montgomery was 2-3 with a 5.11 ERA in 10 regular-season starts this season. He had his worst outing against the Rays on Sept. 2, giving up four runs on five hits (two homers) with one walk and two strikeouts in just two-thirds of an inning.

So how can he get the job done in Game 4?

The Rays’ bats have been unstoppable over the last two nights, led by a young Randy Arozarena, who’s posted a 2.109 OPS against the Yankees during the ALDS. And with a lefty on the mound, Tampa Bay has the ability to stack the lineup with right-handed hitters, having options in Mike Brosseau, Hunter Renfroe or Yandy Díaz. The Rays posted the sixth-best OPS against southpaws this year (.778) but also had the highest strikeout percentage against lefties (28.5%) in the Majors.

“Really, they’re a talented team,” Montgomery said, “and kind of make you be extra pinpoint.”

“Extra pinpoint” is exactly what Montgomery will need to be with a slew of right-handed hitters ready to face him.

Montgomery in 2020:
Against left-handed batters: .229 average, .614 OPS, zero homers, 12 strikeouts, 48 at-bats
Against right-handed batters: .278 average, .798 OPS, seven homers, 35 strikeouts, 133 at-bats

Montgomery in his career:
Against left-handed batters: .195 average, .593 OPS, five homers, 32 strikeouts, 154 at-bats
Against right-handed batters: .256 average, .727 OPS, 27 homers, 187 strikeouts, 742 at-bats

How New York will attack Tampa Bay in Game 4 remains to be seen. The Yankees showed they’re willing to be creative on Tuesday after having rookie right-hander start Game 2 to pitch just one frame before calling on lefty in the second. As of Wednesday, Montgomery hadn’t been told whether that type of approach would be taken again in Game 4.

“I’m going to treat it like it’s my game,” Montgomery said. “So I’m going to go out there and give it my all.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before Wednesday’s game that he expected García to be in the mix again on Thursday. Because he only tossed one frame in Game 2, the Yankees will have him as a right-handed option to turn to early, if needed.

Another perk the club will have is that closer is well-rested since he hasn’t pitched yet in this series. Like his one-hit performance in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Indians last week, Chapman could be used for two frames on Thursday in an attempt to force a Game 5.

“Obviously you're a lot more aggressive from a pitching standpoint tomorrow, where there is no tomorrows,” Boone said. “You're going to be aggressive with all your high-leverage guys and push them as much as you have to. Hopefully we can hold [the Rays] down and keep staying in the fight offensively against these guys.”