ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Jordan Montgomery was exceptional against the Tampa Bay Rays, even better when he lumbered off the mound to make a diving catch that helped the Texas Rangers to a 4-0 victory in their AL Wild Card Series opener.
“It’s good to do your job and help the team win,” Montgomery said after scattering six hits over seven innings on Tuesday to move the Rangers within a victory of an AL Division Series matchup against the Baltimore Orioles.
Texas rebounded from a weekend collapse that cost the Rangers the AL West title and a first-round playoff bye. The Rays dropped a club-record sixth straight postseason game dating to Game 2 of the 2021 AL Division Series against Boston.
Montgomery’s pitching set the tone as the best-of-three series began. The Rangers also drew inspiration from the 6-foot-6 left-hander’s defensive gem on a bunt that Jose Siri popped into the air along the first-base line with runners at the corners.
Montgomery dove to make the catch and landed awkwardly.
“I saw it high enough in the air, kind of made two quick steps at it, and then just blacked out and went for it,” Montgomery said.
“That was electric. I was fired up,” said rookie left fielder Evan Carter, who doubled twice and drew a pair of walks in his postseason debut.
“It wasn’t a soft landing was it? He’s a big fellow,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “Great catch by him. We were in a tight situation there. … Just shows you how competitive he is to go out there and dive for that ball.”
Bochy and Rangers athletic trainers went to the mound to check on Montgomery, who was not injured.
“I think I was just as shocked as everybody in the stands. I had to backhand it. … It just was something I’ve never done before,” the pitcher said. “I don’t know if I’ve done that since I was 12. Just kind of a heat-of-the-moment competitive thing.”
Corey Seager and Josh Jung drove in runs and the Rangers benefitted from four errors by the Rays, who also fizzled offensively before a crowd of just 19,704 — roughly 5,300 below listed capacity — at Tropicana Field.
“We didn’t hit, pitch or defend,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “When you’re up against a good team, they’re going to capitalize, and they eventually really did.”
Tampa Bay, wearing throwback Devil Rays jerseys in the style of 1998-2000, has reached the postseason for the fifth straight season but has one run in its last three playoff defeats, hitting .133.
Montgomery, a 30-year-old left-hander acquired from St. Louis at the trade deadline, retired 14 of his last 16 batters. He fanned pinch-hitter Junior Caminero, Tampa Bay’s top minor league prospect, to end his outing with five strikeouts and no walks.
Aroldis Chapman pitched a perfect eighth and José Leclerc worked around a walk in the ninth to finish a six-hitter, the Rangers’ first postseason shutout since the 2011 World Series.
“We’re not going to alter our approach. This team has scored a lot of runs this year. It’s a good hitting lineup,” Cash said. “We got shut down today. I’m very confident that we’re going to bounce back and have some good at-bats.”
Tyler Glasnow (0-1) yielded a sacrifice fly to Jung in the second inning, and the right-hander’s wild pitch allowed Texas to score its second run after the Rangers loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth.
Texas, 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position while stranding nine baserunners through five innings, opened a 4-0 lead in the sixth with additional help from the normally sure-handed Rays, who committed four errors — Tampa Bay’s most in a postseason game since 2008.
Glasnow walked the first two batters in the sixth and Seager greeted Chris Devenski with a run-scoring single. A second run scored on the play when centerfielder Jose Siri threw wildly past third base.
Montgomery, who is eligible for free agency after the World Series, was 2-0 with a 0.67 ERA over his final four starts.
Glasnow allowed four runs and six hits in five-plus innings with eight strikeouts and five walks.
The mother of Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena joined her son on the field to throw a ceremonial first pitch before the game.
Sandra Gonzalez made the trip to Tropicana Field from Mexico to watch Arozarena play in person for the first time as a major leaguer. She only recently obtained a visa and arrived in Florida on Monday.
Gonzalez played catch with the All-Star outfielder near the home dugout before taking the mound and tossing a strike to Arozarena, who was squatting in a catcher’s position behind the plate.
The Rays-Rangers series is a family affair in more ways than one, with brothers Josh Lowe of Tampa Bay and Nathaniel Lowe of Texas facing off in October for the first time. Their mother, Wendy, was unable to attend because she is battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy.
“It hurts her that she’s not going to be here today. She’s entering her third week of chemo and radiation, and she’s got brain cancer, so yeah, it’s a lot to go through,” Nathaniel said before the game.
“It’s a pretty heavy toll,” the Texas first baseman added. “I know Josh has done a pretty good job of putting it aside and compartmentalizing it and performing. But it’s something that we’re all learning to deal with and go forward with.”
Texas right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (12-5, 3.63 ERA) starts Wednesday, and the Rays will counter with AL wins co-leader Zach Eflin (16-8).
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