Kansas City Royals

Royals give Mike Montgomery another shot as a starter in a familiar setting

When the Royals went to their second of back-to-back World Series and captured the franchise’s first championship in 30 years, Mike Montgomery watched from his home with his family and wondered “what if.”

A former Royals first-round draft pick (2008) who was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays in December 2012, Montgomery followed the progress of his former teammates in the minors. He kept a close eye on fellow pitcher Danny Duffy, with whom he shared big-league dreams in the minors.

“Why am I not there?” Montgomery said of his thoughts as he watched the Royals celebrate. “I was still in the minor leagues at the time. It really gave me that extra motivation. I was obviously super thrilled for those guys. I didn’t think I would be experiencing the same thing a year later.”

The next year, Montgomery recorded the final out of the Chicago Cubs’ 108-year-drought-ending World Series win.

This week, those same Cubs traded Montgomery to the Royals in exchange for catcher Martin Maldonado. Montgomery will start Friday in the first game of a road series in Cleveland. He’ll likely only throw 40-50 pitches because he has pitched exclusively in relief this season.

Montgomery has been yearning for the chance to start regularly, and that was a big part of the reason the deal between the Royals and Cubs fit for both sides.

This season, Montgomery made four appearances with the Cubs before going on the injured list with a lat strain in April. He has made all 20 appearances this season in relief. He posted a 5.67 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP, while opponents have batted .327 against him in 27 innings this season.

Montgomery, went 14-17 with three saves and a 3.74 ERA (133 earned runs in 320 innings) in 119 regular-season appearances (38 starts) with the Cubs since being acquired from the Seattle Mariners in 2016.

The fact that Montgomery was traded back to where his professional baseball career started gives him both a sense of familiarity and a boost of energy.

“When I did hear the news of it, it was kind of like that excitement came back,” Montgomery said. “I know a lot of the people here. I’ve been with four different teams now. So to be able to come back here especially after my experiences here — when you’re drafted by a team, they kind of always have a little special place for you — it was a lot of excitement.”

In this case, that level of excitement is a two-way street. Duffy couldn’t help but smile at the thought of being reunited with his former minor-league teammate. The two spoke on the phone after the deal became official. They still hadn’t bumped into each other in the clubhouse on Wednesday when Montgomery spoke to reporters.

“I always thought we were going to pitch in the show together,” Duffy said. “I just didn’t think it would be a decade after I would’ve thought. He’s a great dude. He’s got really good stuff and got a really good heart. I’m excited to get him in here and watch him pitch.”

Just as Montgomery kept close tabs on his former teammates as their success, Duffy remembers vividly watching the Cubs in the World Series and realizing his old friend was warming up to go into one of the biggest spots in baseball history.

“He was able to do something that literally every young pitcher dreams about doing, that’s throwing the last pitch of the World Series. He was able to accomplish that. I hope that we can have something similar to that in the not too distant future.”

The two left-handed pitchers, drafted one year apart, were together at each level of the minors. One year they were part of an entirely left-handed starting pitching rotation in Double-A.

Fox Sports Kansas City tweeted out a promotional video that the two pitchers starred in while playing for High-A Wilmington, including outtakes and miscues as they needled each other during the taping.

“He’s goofy like me, but he’s definitely focused when it comes down to it,” Duffy said. “When game time rolls around, he’s a heck of a competitor.”

Montgomery forgot the video existed until Duffy sent it to him this week. Montgomery chuckled while calling it “hilarious.”

“The game takes wild turns and the paths of players sometimes cross,” Montgomery said. “I’m excited. I haven’t seen him yet. He’s pitching today. I’ll be rooting for him. I’m excited to be his teammate once again. I’ve followed his career the whole time and seen everything. He’s had a lot of success. It’s exciting to be back here and back with him and see what we can do.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.