MLB

2016 World Series Hero Keeping Dream Alive In Minors

Aug 21, 2023, 9:04 AM

oklahoma city dodgers pitcher mike montgomery...

2016 World Series hero Mike Montgomery delivers a pitch for the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2023

SALT LAKE CITY – Who was the man on the mound when the Chicago Cubs knocked off the then Cleveland Indians in a 2016 World Series game seven for the ages?

Getting the call from manager Joe Maddon with one man on base and Chicago clinging to an 8-7 advantage was sometimes reliever, occasional starter Mike Montgomery.

In his first season with Chicago after being acquired in a July 20 trade, Montgomery and his curveball faced light-hitting backup Michael Martinez. On an 0-1 count, Martinez bounced a looping curveball to Kris Bryant, and with a throw across the diamond to Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs 108-year World Series title drought was over.

For Montgomery, it was the first save of his career. At 28 years old, Montgomery was headed for a long and successful MLB career.

Seven seasons later and Montgomery hasn’t played an MLB game since 2020. On his fourth organization and fifth team since the beginning of 2021, including a stint with the Samsung Lions of the KBO League in Korea

Fast forward to today and Montgomery is a starter for the Oklahoma City Dodgers, triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. A father of two children, a four-year-old son and a two-month-old daughter, Montgomery enjoys the opportunity to share his career with his family.

“They’ve traveled with me everywhere, every year,” the 34-year-old lefty said. “I want to keep them in the loop and have them around. Bring them in the clubhouse and get to experience the baseball life a little bit.”

2016 World Series Hero

After debuting in 2015, Montgomery made 16 starts for the Seattle Mariners. The following season, he was used primarily out of the bullpen in the first half. Appearing in 32 games, including two starts, the Chicago Cubs took notice.

“I made the team out of the bullpen that year and ended up pitching really well in that long relief role and moved back to the rotation. That was when I immediately got traded to the Cubs.”

On July 20, with the Mariners falling off the American League West division pace at 48-47, Seattle dealt Montgomery and minor league pitcher Jordan Pries to the Cubs for minor leaguers Daniel Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn. At the time, Chicago was 57-37 and running away with the National League Central division with eyes on making a deep playoff push.

The Cubs had a roster littered with MLB All-Stars. Eventual NL MVP Kris Bryant and team leader Anthony Rizzo garnered most headlines, but Chicago had an absurd amount of talented position players. On the pitching staff, Montgomery could learn from World Series-winning pitchers like Jon Lester and John Lackey.

“I got to be around some really good players and learned as much as I could from those guys. I think that was what helped me elevate my game at that time.”

With depth in the rotation, Montgomery was somewhat of an insurance policy for the Cubs.

“They were stacked at that point so I went back to the bullpen. They were like ‘Hey, we’re gonna use you in kind of a hybrid role’. I would say I excelled in that role.”

“Sometimes I would come out of the bullpen, sometimes I would start. They expected a certain thing of me when I got traded there and I had to adapt, learn on the fly, and fit into whatever role that can help the team at that time. It was the versatility that helped me at that point.”

Chicago went on to clinch the Central division with 103 wins, entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the National League.

In the Divisional Series, the Cubs dispatched the San Francisco Giants three games to one, leading to a National League Championship Series date with the Dodgers. After dropping two of the first three games, the Cubs stormed back to win three straight, including a dominating game six performance from starter Kyle Hendricks. With a 5-0 win, the Cubs were headed back to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Montgomery would throw 9.2 innings across six appearances in the two series. He limited the Giants and Dodgers to ten hits and four runs for a 3.72 ERA. It was clear he had the trust of skipper Joe Maddon.

In the World Series against the Indians, Montgomery pitched in games two, three, four, and six, throwing 4.1 innings and allowing just a single runner to cross the plate.

Game Seven

Despite Montgomery’s effectiveness, Chicago fell behind three games to one. A come-from-behind Cubs win in game five, the first World Series win at iconic Wrigley Field since 1945, sent the series back to Cleveland. Two days later, Chicago blew out the Indians 9-3 to force a deciding game seven.

Holding a 6-3 lead after seven innings in that deciding game, Chicago looked poised to end their championship drought, until they didn’t.

Cleveland scored three runs in the eighth, tying the game on a two-run home run from outfielder Rajai Davis.

“I remember (Aroldis) Chapman gave up that home run. It was a gut-wrenching feeling in the bullpen.”

After a scoreless ninth, the skies opened up, forcing a 17-minute rain delay that sent both teams into their respective clubhouses before extra innings could begin.

“I walked in and Chapman was in tears. People were trying to console him. It was kind of a surreal feeling.”

Within minutes, after word that the game would continue, Montgomery headed back to the bullpen with reliever Carl Edwards Jr. to be ready once the game resumed. This caused them to miss the now famous players-only meeting called by Jason Heyward.

While walking to the Progressive Field bullpen, Montgomery told Edwards Jr., “Hey C.J., it’s gonna come down to me or you right now. One of us was going to be in the game.”

Following the delay, Chicago immediately scored two runs in the top of the tenth inning to take an 8-6 lead. In the bottom half, Edwards Jr. got two quick outs before things began to unravel. Brandon Guyer drew a walk and immediately took second base on defensive indifference. Rajai Davis singled home Guyer, forcing Edwards Jr. out of the game and giving Montgomery his chance.

After throwing an inning the previous night and appearing in 10 of 13 playoff games already, Montgomery was worn down.

“Tired would be an understatement but at that point, you’re just kind of numb to everything. I remember seeing (John) Lackey and (Jake) Arrieta and they just looked at me like, ‘Mike, you got this’. They gave me that confidence.”

Lesser men might allow the moment’s gravity to prevent them from executing, not Montgomery.

“You kind of know what the moment is but you know, ‘I gotta go in there and execute some pitches’.”

After finishing his warm-up tosses, Montgomery asked catcher Miguel Montero how they wanted to attack Indians pinch-hitter Michael Martinez.

“I’ll let you know,” Montero said before walking away.

Montgomery remembers thinking, “Okay, it’s interesting that he’s gonna say that.”

Two curveballs later and Montgomery found himself in the middle of a mass of humanity as the Cubs franchise celebrated a World Series title.

“It was a great experience, obviously the highlight of my career. It was the right time, right place, and sometimes you’ve got to lock it in at the right moments and I was able to do that.”

Nearly seven years later and Montgomery understands even more what his performance meant to the franchise and fanbase.

“The other day in Oklahoma City, I had a fan come up and say, ‘Hey, I want to introduce you to my son’. He was a five-year-old kid and they named the middle name Montgomery. That’s just wild to me to think about. So you appreciate how much it meant to so many people on a personal level.”

“It’s almost like I was their hero when, for me, I was just trying to survive and get somebody out.”

Mike Montgomery’s Future

Despite not having thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2020, Montgomery is focused on getting back. “I love competing and the opportunity to go out there and see how good you can be. It’s that battle within myself that as long as I still have that drive and fire, I’m going to keep it going.”

A left-handed starting pitcher will always be a commodity in baseball, giving Montgomery a leg-up to play as long as he wants to.

“The game has changed so much. The way pitchers are being used and the rule changes in the last few years, there’s way more value for me as a starter. Being a left-handed starter who can pitch with length, it’s just making myself more valuable to organizations.”

Why keep playing after all these years and with a World Series ring in your back pocket?

“I don’t know anything else. I’ve played professional baseball since I was 18. I’m still healthy, able to throw and not be in pain. So I’m going to play this game as long as I can. I honestly, truly believe that I’m going to get back to the big leagues.”

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2016 World Series Hero Keeping Dream Alive In Minors