'Blinders on,' Montgomery dominates Rays

May 12th, 2021

As tinkered with a game plan to face the Rays for the third time in a month, the Yankees' left-hander expected to stare down a lineup that would be sitting on offspeed pitches. The solution was to challenge with his fastball, early and often.

Capping an eventful day in which third-base coach Phil Nevin, first-base coach Reggie Willits and a non-coach staff member were confirmed as COVID-19 "breakthrough" positives, Montgomery helped to restore order by tying his career high with nine strikeouts in a 3-1 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night.

“It just tested everyone’s mental strength, with all that’s going on,” Montgomery said. “Everyone put the blinders on and got the job done, so I’m proud of everybody.”

Following a meeting in which the Yankees voted to play the game as scheduled, Montgomery turned in a crisp six-inning effort while and homered. The Yanks opened their longest road trip of the season with a victory, their 10th in 13 games.

“It’s been a long 24 or 36 hours for us,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I thought the focus of the guys was really good going into the game. This is a team that has played us really tough over the last year and the first part of this year, being a division rival. To get off to a good start on the trip and play well was nice to see.”

The Yankees defeated Tampa Bay for just the second time in seven tries this year as Montgomery dazzled, scattering two hits and a walk in an 85-pitch gem. Montgomery used all four of his pitches well, including tossing 23 changeups to generate nine swings and misses.

"He attacked the strike zone, so he never let anybody get into hitters' counts,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He had the command of his pitches going on, and when any pitcher in this game does that, it makes it that much more challenging."

Mike Zunino barreled a sinker for a long solo home run in the third inning -- Zunino’s blast, which carried 472 feet, was the fourth-longest hit in the Majors so far this year according to Statcast -- but Montgomery retired his final eight batters faced. Montgomery said he still had fuel in the tank for more.

“Of course -- I’m always ready to go back out,” Montgomery said. “But they thought it was best not to. We won the game.”

All rise

Refreshed after being limited to a late pinch-hitting appearance on Sunday, plus Monday’s off-day, Judge put the Yankees on the board early with a first-inning home run off Luis Patiño. The blast was Judge’s eighth of the season.

“That was big time for us,” Judge said. “Whenever we come into Tampa, I feel like it's tough for us to score runs and get on the board. For me, I was just trying to get something out over the plate and do damage early, trying to get something going in the first inning. I was happy to do it on that first swing.”

A pair of Zunino third-inning passed balls allowed DJ LeMahieu to scamper home with New York’s second run off Patiño, who worked four innings. Sánchez extended the lead in the eighth inning with an opposite-field homer to right-center field, the embattled backstop’s fourth long ball of the year.

“I can be a good player defensively and offensively,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. “I trust myself and I believe in myself that I can definitely get myself out of the hole.”

Shutting it down

Montgomery yielded to Jonathan Loaisiga for two strong innings, bringing on closer Aroldis Chapman in search of his eighth save in as many opportunities.

Gleyber Torres dropped Austin Meadows’ soft flare for an error and Chapman lost his command of the strike zone, uncorking what appeared to be a wild pitch to the backstop. Meadows broke for second, but the ball struck an advertising board and caromed back to Sánchez, who fired to second baseman Tyler Wade.

The tag was applied on a stunned Meadows, with the "out" call upheld by review. Chapman then pitched around a walk to nail down the win.

“That is one of those plays you don’t get to practice,” Sánchez said. “It just happens and you react. Your reaction has to be so fast and you’re trying to get the ball as quick as possible. It has happened to me a couple of times with Chapman, so you just react and execute."