August 10, 2022

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Tasked with preventing No. 3,000, Monty delivers

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DETROIT — Early-season games aren’t typically fraught with drama, but the Yankees knew coming into their three-game series against the Tigers that there would be a buzz surrounding Comerica Park.

Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera was on the cusp of 3,000 career hits, and with a three-hit performance on Wednesday night, Detroit’s designated hitter stood just one shy. The Tigers and the umpires reached out to manager Aaron Boone and the Yankees to offer a heads up. Boone, in turn, chatted with Thursday starter Jordan Montgomery.

Hey, y’know, if he happens to get a hit …

Should Montgomery stand there on the bump as the crowd roars? Walk to the dugout to give Cabrera the stage? Tip his cap? Holler into his glove?

Of course, the better solution would be to simply deny Cabrera No. 3,000, and that’s what Montgomery ultimately did.

“I thought he got into a good rhythm as he went, and I loved his pace,” Boone said. “I thought he worked quickly. I thought his stuff got better as the game went along.”

The 29-year-old lefty with just three “full” seasons under his belt (including the COVID-19 shortened 2020 campaign) against the 39-year-old slugger with 20 years in uniform. One just beginning his career, the other closing his out.

They went three rounds during the Yankees’ 3-0 loss on Thursday afternoon, each one longer than the last. As the Yanks packed up after the game to catch a plane bound for the next series at home vs. Cleveland, it’s important to remember that Montgomery didn’t flinch.

“I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, but it’s the Yankees, man,” said Cabrera, who likened the Yankees to Real Madrid, the uber-successful European professional soccer team people love to hate. “When you play the Yankees, it’s big.”

As much as Cabrera might have wanted his milestone to come against New York, Montgomery would have none of it. Did Montgomery hear any of this pregame chatter from the clubhouse down the hall? Probably not. That didn’t stop him from feeling a sense of duty.

“I wouldn’t say it’s fun facing Miggy because he’s so good,” Montgomery said, “but it’s definitely exciting and it makes you up your game.”

The atmosphere throughout the series wasn’t lost on Boone, who played with Cabrera on the Marlins in 2007 and has tremendous respect for his former teammate. He stopped short of rooting for Cabrera against his Yankees, offering only, “If it’s something that he gets and, you know, it doesn’t hurt us, that’s fine, I guess.”

“It’s a pretty interesting feeling in the ballpark, like this roar leading up to [Cabrera’s at-bats], but then this kind of silence on every pitch was kind of pretty cool,” Boone added. “Actually, Aaron Hicks said something to me coming in. He’s like, ‘I’ve never seen a crowd get like that and then kind of go silent for it.’ It was kind of almost eerie.”

All the roars and silence didn’t throw Montgomery, who needed just a pair of fastballs in the first inning to sit down the Tigers’ slugger. Montgomery flipped the script in the fourth and was equally successful, opening with two changeups and a sinker before reaching back for an 80.7 mph curveball that induced a swing-and-miss strike three and groans from the crowd.

With one out in the sixth and Miguel Castro warming in the ’pen, Montgomery dug deep. It was dicey for a moment: He one-hopped a 1-2 curveball in front of the plate to even the count at 2-2, then missed low and in with a changeup as the volume in the stadium reached a crescendo as the count stood full.

“That third time was pretty exciting,” Montgomery said. “He had a standing ovation, it got really loud, and I just wanted to make a pitch.”

Cabrera liked that payoff pitch — a 93.2 mph sinker — a little too much and couldn’t check his swing before it crossed the plate to hand Montgomery a 3-for-3 day against the legend.

It marked Cabrera’s last at-bat of the game, as Boone decided to intentionally walk the 2012 AL Triple Crown Award winner to load the bases with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and the Yankees down, 1-0.

Intended to draw a more favorable lefty-on-lefty matchup, the move backfired when Austin Meadows promptly blooped a two-run double into shallow center field that pushed Detroit’s lead to 3-0.

The boos from the crowd were deafening and lasted the remainder of the game. Boone shrugged them off.

“I certainly understand that,” he said. “You don’t necessarily like being in that position, but that’s part of it. … It’s a baseball call [all] the way, but there’s no doubt that there’s a little more feeling to it, right, when you’re understanding the situation. But in the end, you’ve gotta go with what you think is right within the context of the game.”

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