It is rare that you know special in the moment. There is an ever raging war between our senses, which process only the here and now and are constantly sending that information to our brain with a giant "IMPORTANT: ACTION NECESSARY" tag and our mind, which freely puts so much of that information into the "Spam" folder.
Last night the brain and senses agreed. Mike Montgomery pitched what has a very good chance of being the game of his life. This is not to damn Mike Montgomery's future to mediocrity and/or brevity. He could well be a late bloomer; an unpolished gem found by a front office that takes a lot of justified heat for player development but has a track record of finding cheap, mid rotation talent. But even if yesterday was the beginning of a long and successful career there is a very good chance that Mike Montgomery will never exceed what he did over 9 innings in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd at Safeco.
Brendan talked about this in the recap but it bears repeating: The Kansas City Royals do not strike out. If their current 15.8 K% holds up over the course of the season it would be the lowest team strike out rate since 2011. For further context in that time the league wide K% has increased from 18.6% to 20.1%. The Royals make contact better than any team has in many years, while other teams have gotten worse over that time span.
And it simply didn't matter. For a night Mike Montgomery was the perfect ideal of so many scout's fondest projections. 1st round draft picks are not 1st round draft picks without possessing some physical skill that jumps off the page. If you are chosen in the 1st round it's because there is something about the way you can play baseball that is very, very special. Last night Montgomery was everything anyone ever expected him to be. In honor of his amazing day let's appreciate every unexpected, joy-inducing strike out.
Strikeout 1: In which our hero escapes a precarious situation
The situation: Bases loaded, 0 outs.
The batter: All-Star Eric Hosmer (K% 18.1)
The sequence: Fastball, fastball, changeup, fastball.
The putaway: A perfectly located 1-2 fastball away and at the knees that Hosmer swung through.
Strikeout 2: Damn we're in a tight spot
The situation: Runners on 1st and 2nd, no outs.
The batter: All-Star Alex Rios (K% 18.1)
The sequence: Changeup, fastball, cutter, fastball, changeup
The putaway: A beautiful changeup at the knees; the first of many.
Strikeout 3: A glimmer of hope
The situation: Runners on 1st and 2nd, 1 out.
The batter: All-Star Omar Infante (K% 15.6)
The sequence: Fastball, cutter, changeup.
The putaway: The second in a litter of beautiful baby changeups, right at the knees, swung through helplessly.
Strikeout 4: Mike Montgomery - who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side
The situation: Runners on 1st and 2nd, 2 outs.
The batter: Alcides Escobar (K% 10.5)(!)
The sequence: Fastball, fastball, changeup, curveball.
The putaway: A nasty, diving hook on the hands, just below the strike zone. Perfect pitch.
Strikeout 5: The man begins to understand greatness lies within, and within grasp
The situation: No one on, 2 outs.
The batter: All-Star Eric Hosmer (K% 18.1).
The sequence: Fastball, fastball, curveball, changeup.
The putaway: After 3 pitches at the very bottom or just below the lowest reaches of the zone Montgomery baffles Hosmer with another beautiful change.
Strikeout 6: The foot is off the gas yet the vehicle loses no speed, cruising ever onward
The situation: No one on, 1 out.
The batter: All-Star Alex Gordon (K% 19.8)
The sequence: Fastball, cutter, fastball, change.
The putaway: The change, the change, what what the change. So tempting, so alluring, so temporal; here but a moment for us to grasp at before disappearing, ephemeral, into the mist.
Strikeout 7: Behold the man, how he writhes and tussles with the wild, antlered beast
The situation: No one on, no outs.
The batter: All-Star Mike Moustakas
The sequence: Fastball, changeup, cutter.
The putaway: A rare backwards K and a rare cutter that had Moustakas perplexed, befuddled and aghast.
Strikeout 8: Consider the lilies of the god damn field
The situation: No one one, one out.
The batter: All-Star Lorenzo Cain. (K% 18.0)
The sequence: Fastball, fastball, cutter, changeup.
The putaway: Perhaps Montgomery meant to waste this change in advance of a cutter on the hands. But Cain failed to divine the line between aggression and foolishness. Strike 3.
Strikeout 9: A classic, thunderous, Beethoven-esque false climax
The situation: None one, one out.
The batter: All-Star Alex Gordon (K% 19.8)
The sequence: Fastball, cutter, fastball, curveball.
The putaway: A two-plane, eyeball-spinning curve off the plate and, as always, down down down.
Strikeout 10: The Finale, or how to make your mother cry
The situation: None on, none out.
The batter: All-Star Lorenzo Cain (K% 18.0)
The sequence: Fastball, cutter, changeup, curveball, fastball, changeup.
The putaway: The Star; the Crown Jewel; the Alpha; the Omega; the changeup, below the knees. No greater pitch has baseball ever known than the well disguised change below the knees.
Let's condense all that into a beautiful chart because my words are scarce today and Brooks Baseball is my friend:
That's 20 changeups, 12 strikes, 11 swings, 7 misses. Like many pitchers Mike Montgomery has only one true out pitch and that is that change. When he locates that pitch with two strikes he will be a successful major league pitcher. He will be a great one if he does things like this:
Mike Montgomery only threw 11 balls after the 4th inning. That is seriously locked-in— Gary Hill (@GaryHillJr) June 24, 2015
Mike Montgomery had a day.