Jordan Montgomery’s rise to Texas ace status fuels baseball dream and drama

Ex-Yankees pitcher Jordan Montgomery with the 2023 World Series trophy won by the Texas Rangers
Sara Molnick
Sunday November 19, 2023

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The story of the 2023 postseason has Jordan Montgomery as its standout hero. His rise from the ashes like a Phoenix attracted so much attention that his former team, the New York Yankees, are eager for a reunion.

It came as no surprise that Montgomery was chosen to start Game 1. Since being traded by the Cardinals in July, he had consistently been the standout pitcher for Bruce Bochy’s team for nearly two months. However, what transpired in the second inning against the Rays left a lasting impression on his new team.

With the Rangers holding a one-run lead and the Rays threatening with runners on the corners, Montgomery faced his first high-pressure situation of the postseason. In an unexpected turn of events, the Rays’ No. 8 hitter, Jose Siri, attempted a bunt, resulting in a short popup that traveled only 48 feet along the first-base line. Without hesitation, Montgomery tracked the ball’s flight, sprinted towards the line, reached out with his glove hand, went down awkwardly onto the dirt, and executed a remarkable diving catch. The pitcher mentioned that it was a play he hadn’t made since he was just 12 years old.

“Wow,” Nathaniel Lowe, his teammate, exclaimed, standing just inches away from Montgomery as he made that extraordinary catch. According to Lowe, his teammate, the pitcher is known for his calm demeanor and expressionless face on the mound, often appearing stoic and composed while delivering his signature sinker.

It was truly astonishing, a complete surprise. Teammates recalled that Montgomery’s remarkable play seemed to freeze time. There he was, a substantial 6-foot-6 left-hander, stretching out to prevent a run from crossing the plate, ultimately contributing to shutting down the Rays in the series. The play wasn’t elegant by any means, but that wasn’t the crucial factor. Montgomery found a way and delivered when it mattered.

Ex-Yankees and current Rangers' starter Jordan Montgomery with the 2023 World Series trophy at Phoenix, AZ, on November 01, 2023.
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Jordan Montgomery: The Phoenix in Texas

In that instant, Marcus Semien grasped the depth of Montgomery’s competitiveness, even though he had only joined the team two months earlier. It was the moment when Semien realized the extent of the pitcher’s commitment to the Rangers’ success. This play also ignited the Rangers into action, with his teammates finding Montgomery’s unwavering dedication truly inspiring.

Semien recalled thinking, he was truly committed to this.

That performance, along with the clutch October outings that ensued, perfectly aligned with the expectations of Rangers general manager Chris Young when he acquired Montgomery. The 30-year-old southpaw has undeniably emerged as one of the pivotal assets in Texas’ journey through the American League. He’s been entrusted with starting two Game 1s, securing victories in three of his four starts (with a no-decision in the other), and provided 2.1 immensely valuable innings of relief during Game 7 of the ALCS against the Astros.

On Saturday, Montgomery is set to take the mound for Game 2 of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks (scheduled for 8:03 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app). This comes as the Rangers aim to capitalize on their remarkable comeback victory at Globe Life Field on the preceding Friday.

Montgomery explained that it’s been a great opportunity to demonstrate his value, emphasizing that you can’t prove yourself unless you’re given a chance. He highlighted his history of pitching in significant games, including high school, college, and the minor leagues. Montgomery cited examples such as being the starter for the Triple-A national championship and pitching in elimination games during college. He emphasized that he has always performed well in high-pressure situations and that he just needed the right opportunity.

A loss that Yankees fans can’t forget or forgive

He did experience a brief stint with the Yankees, although it proved to be short-lived.

Jordan Montgomery celebrates after winning the 2023 World Series with Texas.
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In 2014, Montgomery was selected by the New York Yankees from South Carolina University. It wasn’t until three years later that he established himself as a regular member of the Yankees’ rotation, sharing the mound with the likes of CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Michael Pineda. Montgomery compiled a 9-7 record and posted a 3.88 ERA over 155.1 innings and 29 starts, earning him a sixth-place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting for the 2017 season.

Being part of the Yankees, Montgomery was accustomed to occupying a lower position in the hierarchy of starting pitchers. As established and revered arms such as Sabathia and Tanaka departed, the perennial Cy Young contender Gerrit Cole joined the team. It was understandable that his accomplishments could become overshadowed by the spotlight on other star pitchers. However, none of this deterred him. Initially forging a strong bond with Sabathia and later developing a close friendship with Cole, Montgomery remained focused on delivering on the mound, regardless of the circumstances.

Lowe expressed that Jordan Montgomery is a different pitcher from Gerrit Cole, Domingo German, and Luis Severino. While those pitchers have garnered considerable attention and hype, Lowe believed that Montgomery performed better on the mound with less distraction. He noted that the pitcher didn’t encounter the same issues that some of the other pitchers in the rotation faced, emphasizing that Montgomery is a reliable and focused presence on the mound.

Despite Montgomery’s reputation as a big-game pitcher during his high school and college years, the Yankees didn’t view him in that light. He had only one playoff start in the 2020 ALDS, pitching four innings and conceding just one run, but it occurred one day before the team’s elimination. (He didn’t pitch in the subsequent postseason as the Yankees were ousted in a one-game wild-card round.) With the 2022 Yankees poised for a deep playoff run, Brian Cashman and the team’s management traded Montgomery to St. Louis at the deadline, partially due to the belief that he wouldn’t play a significant role in their postseason campaign.

In hindsight, the Yankees’ assessment of how Montgomery would perform in the postseason couldn’t have been more inaccurate. However, the left-handed pitcher comprehends why he wasn’t given that opportunity ahead of certain other pitchers during his time in New York.

Montgomery stated that he holds no grudges, emphasizing his positive feelings towards the New York Yankees. He acknowledged that the Yankees drafted him and provided him with seven productive years in the major leagues. Montgomery expressed deep respect for the organization and maintained good relationships with people associated with the Yankees.

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In Texas, Montgomery finds joy in reuniting with pitching coach Mike Maddux, who held the same role in St. Louis when he joined the team last year. Maddux commends Montgomery for his capacity to vary his pitching speeds and his elevated release point, noting that the left-handed pitcher’s delivery creates the illusion of the ball coming right down a steep slope toward the batter. The seasoned pitching coach also highlighted Montgomery’s progress in game-planning over the past year, elevating it to one of his many strengths on the mound. His performance has also garnered admiration from his teammate, Max Scherzer.

Scherzer praised Montgomery’s pitching skills, highlighting his ability to focus on fundamental aspects of the game. He pointed out that He excels at locating pitches and effectively changing speeds. Scherzer emphasized that despite various advanced metrics, Montgomery’s success in the playoffs is a result of his proficiency in these fundamental aspects of pitching.

Data and science both point to Monty’s success

Admittedly, the data represents a relatively limited sample size. Nevertheless, this includes his two-month tenure in the regular season with the Rangers, and it’s evident that Montgomery has never been more proficient at minimizing runs. Although his strikeout rate has slightly decreased compared to his time in New York, he’s notably reducing both walks and home runs surrendered. So far, the batted balls are not causing him harm, and part of the credit can be attributed to Texas’ exceptional defense. Montgomery identifies multiple factors contributing to his increased effectiveness.

Montgomery expressed his belief that his overall pitching abilities have improved. He mentioned that he feels his stuff, delivery, and conviction in his pitches have all progressed. He also noted that he is physically stronger and has added some weight, contributing to his overall improvement.

The increasing self-assurance of Montgomery is a significant factor to consider in the overall equation.

Maddux pointed out that Jordan has recognized his abilities as a highly effective pitcher. He highlighted that Jordan approaches each game, inning, and at-bat with the same level of focus and consistency, regardless of the stage, which Maddux appreciated.

Montgomery has consistently demonstrated these qualities for years. His current teammates admire his composure and professionalism, which they credit to his time in the Yankees’ organization. However, Montgomery reveals that his discipline on the mound dates back to his early days as an amateur, with coaches emphasizing the importance of not revealing emotions during a start. This approach has remained unchanged, even as the postseason pressure has intensified. He’s also been pleasantly surprised to receive messages of encouragement from several of his former Yankees colleagues during the playoffs. Since that remarkable diving catch against the Rays, Montgomery has heard from the likes of Cole, Aaron Judge, Aaron Boone, Michael King, Clarke Schmidt, Kyle Higashioka, Larry Rothschild, and Mike Harkey, among others.

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Semien mentioned that Jordan Montgomery had been somewhat overlooked during his time with the Cardinals. However, once they acquired him, Semien recognized that Jordan remained the same tough pitcher he remembered from his days with the Yankees. He also noticed Jordan’s killer instinct, hunger for a World Series win, and the positive impact it had on their team.

The Rangers can only aspire to retain his services. Montgomery is set to become a free agent immediately following the conclusion of the World Series. While the successful partnership between Maddux and Montgomery has only flourished in Arlington, the prospect of a reunion with New York may pique interest, especially considering the Yankees’ demand for more reliable pitching options. It’s likely that multiple teams will express their interest in the Scott Boras client.

At the moment, Montgomery is attempting to put thoughts of free agency on the back burner. When questioned about his impending contract negotiations, he simply chuckled and remarked, “We’ll see.”

Before addressing any other concerns, he must confront a more immediate challenge: thwarting the Diamondbacks and contributing to the Rangers’ quest for their inaugural championship. Montgomery has consistently thrived in these critical moments. He has a history of finding a way and coming through when it matters. Therefore, there’s no reason to believe that the most significant start of his career should be any different.

Lowe referred to Jordan Montgomery as “Playoff Monty,” who soon became the “Championship Monty.”

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