Pitching, Defense, and a Two-Base Error: Montgomery and the Rangers Take Game One

Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was decisive. The Texas Rangers dominated the first contest of their Wild Card Series in all three phases of the game. Bruce Bochy’s club outhit, outpitched, and absolutely out-defended the Tampa Bay Rays en route to a 4-0 victory. If baseball involved special teams, they surely would’ve crushed Tampa on that front too. Fresh off the best season of his seven-year career, Jordan Montgomery silenced a Rays team whose 118 wRC+ was second in the majors only to Atlanta’s this year, and whose 120 wRC+ against left-handed pitching ranked fourth. Meanwhile, the Tampa defense, which ranked 18th on our leaderboard this season, set a franchise single-game postseason record with four errors.

Surprising no one, Randy Arozarena’s playoff heroics continued, as he went 2-for-4 with a double. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much help, as the rest of the team notched just four hits.

Defense was the story from the very beginning of the game, overshadowing an impressive performance from ace Tyler Glasnow. Clad in their fun (but possibly cursed) throwback Devil Rays uniforms, Tampa Bay made three errors in the first three innings. Although none of them led directly to a run, they did contribute to Glasnow’s rising pitch count; he needed 51 pitches to get through those first three frames. And it wasn’t just the errors. There were several plays, some of them very tough but all of them makable, that the Rays just couldn’t come up with. Corey Seager, batting second, reached on an error by first baseman Yandy Díaz in the first. Glasnow was able to work through the mistake, striking out the last two batters of the inning.

The Rangers kicked off the scoring in the second inning. Nathaniel Lowe led off with a line drive single, then moved to third on a Leody Taveras groundball that just snuck past a diving Díaz. Josh Jung knocked Lowe in on a sac fly to right. Taveras stole second and advanced to third when René Pinto threw the ball into center field. After walking rookie Evan Carter, Glasnow once again worked his way out of trouble.

The bottom of the second would prove to be Tampa Bay’s best scoring chance. Curtis Mead led off with a single up the middle, then advanced to second on a bunt by Manuel Margot. Margot placed the ball to the third base side of the mound, and it took an excellent defensive play by the left-handed Montgomery to nab him by a step. Mead moved to third on a somewhat bizarre single up the middle by Taylor Walls. Seager and Marcus Semien converged on the ball at nearly the same time, and after dodging what was essentially a takeout slide from Semien, Seager was unable to get the ball out of his glove in time to make a throw. That brought Jose Siri to the plate; the outfielder was playing for the first time since September 11, when a Dylan Floro pitch caused a hairline fracture in his right hand. With runners on first and third, Siri attempted a bunt on a high offering from Montgomery, popping it halfway down the first base line. Montgomery lit out after the ball and made a diving backhanded catch, landing hard on his hip and shoulder. Maybe Siri didn’t feel confident in his first plate appearance after such a long layoff, but the play was a head-scratcher in a huge moment. After taking a few warmup pitches under the eyes of a trainer, Montgomery struck out Pinto to retire the side.

The Rays would also get a runner to third base in the third inning, when Arozarena hit a scalding double to left center and advanced on a fly out. Arozarena did his best to distract Montgomery, dancing off the bag, but Isaac Paredes popped out to end the threat. It would be the last time the Rays had a runner reach third.

The Rangers threatened again in the fourth thanks to a leadoff double by Jonah Heim. Carter ripped a two-out double to the right field gap, but third base coach Tony Beasley made a very conservative call to hold Heim at third, and the threat ended with a Semien pop-up. Asked about Beasley’s decision during an in-game interview, Bochy said, “It’s close. It’s gonna be his call there, but Jonah’s not the fastest guy. And a pretty good hitter coming up. It just didn’t happen.”

The bottom of the fourth was the first 1-2-3 inning of the game for either side, as Montgomery retired the Rays on a strikeout and two groundouts. He would retire the Rays in order in the fifth at well.

Tamp Bay’s defensive woes continued in the fifth, as Seager led off with a line drive double to center. Defensive wizard Siri just missed making a great leaping catch up against the center field wall, but the ball clanked off the heel of his glove. It was a difficult play, but it was also the kind of play that Siri usually makes look easy. Glasnow walked Robbie Grossman, bringing Adolis García and his 39 regular season home runs to the plate with two on and no outs. Garcia hit a 109.9 mph liner directly off the back of Glasnow’s left leg, loading the bases. Glasnow continued after throwing warmup pitches, but whether it was due to the comebacker or his inflated pitch count, his command started to waver. After popping up Lowe, he allowed Seager to score on a wild pitch, then loaded the bases again by walking Heim. Not for the first time, Glasnow seemed to decide to take the game into his own hands, whiffing Taveras and Jung on curveballs for his seventh and eighth strikeouts of the night.

With Glasnow’s pitch count at 88, Kevin Cash decided to send him out for the sixth inning. Glasnow put the leadoff man on base for the third inning in a row, walking Carter on a 3-2 count for the second time. After Glasnow walked Semien on four pitches, Cash pulled him.

Chris Devenski entered with no outs and runners on first and second, and things immediately went from bad to worse. Seager sent Devenski’s first pitch into center on a low liner. Siri charged the ball, but had to pull up short, waving wildly at the ball with his glove as it short-hopped him. Siri was extremely lucky to catch a piece of the ball, popping it straight up in the air. Only one run would have scored on the play, but Siri airmailed a desperate heave to catch Semien at third. The ball ended up in the dugout, scoring Semien and moving Seager to third. That closed the book on Glasnow, who ended with a line of four runs (three earned) over six innings and 98 pitches. Glasnow struck out eight, walked five, and allowed six hits.

That would also end the scoring. Montgomery allowed one Ray to reach base on a soft liner in both the sixth and seventh. He ended with five strikeouts and no walks, scattering six hits over seven scoreless innings. While the defense will get the headlines and deservedly so, the Rays bats were also to blame. Montgomery absolutely shut them down, which maybe shouldn’t come as a surprise. He finished the season on an absolute tear, and his stats on Tuesday closely mirrored the ones he put up over that stretch:

Jordan Montgomery’s Last Five Starts
Game(s) IP/Start ERA K/9 BB/9 EV
Last Four Starts 6.75 0.67 7.33 1.67 85.4
WC Game 1 7 0 6.43 0 83.4

Montgomery threw just 93 pitches, 61 of them for strikes, and the Rays, whose 89.4-mph average exit velocity ranked fifth in baseball this season, managed just three hard-hit balls off him. Montgomery worked the outside corner and benefitted from some help from the umpire, earning six called strikes on pitches that were, according to Statcast, wide of the zone; Glasnow only got one such friendly call.

Devesnki returned to throw a scoreless seventh inning, and Jake Diekman and Andrew Kittredge also held the Rangers scoreless in the eighth and ninth, respectively. Bochy brought in Aroldis Chapman to mow down the Rays in the eighth, and José Leclerc allowed Texas’ first walk of the game to pinch hitter Josh Lowe, but otherwise had no trouble retiring the Rays in the ninth.

Things went exactly to plan for Texas. Not only did Montgomery’s performance help the Rangers stake out a lead in the three-game series, the length he gave them also went a long way toward hiding their shaky bullpen. Their relievers ranked 22nd in baseball with a 4.77 ERA and 4.45 FIP this season, and they were able to get through the first game with only two one-inning appearances from their limited stable of trustworthy arms. A fresh bullpen will mean a great deal over the next two days. Meanwhile, the Rays have to be kicking themselves over both their sloppy defense and their inability to drive the ball. While Glasnow’s walks and the team’s defensive shortcomings didn’t help, none of that matters much if they can’t put runs on the board. It would be a big surprise if they brought back the Devil Rays jerseys on Wednesday.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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Mac Quinnmember
7 months ago

Surely, this pitcher who just shut out a great lineup for 7 innings in game 1 of a playoff series wasn’t traded last year for a defensive specialist in a boot. And surely if he was, there would be a consensus that the GM who signed off on it should be unemployed

7 months ago
Reply to  Mac Quinn

Two teams did really well with Montgomery. One team traded one year of Harrison Bader for half a year of a great starter, a top 100 prospect, and a pure hitting prospect. One team got half a season of a great starter plus at least one dominating playoff performance.

And a third team got Harrison Bader! Everyone must be happy, right?