A top-flight reliever for much of the nineties, Montgomery owed much of his success to his boyhood hero Pete Rose. But not in the way he ever expected. Selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1983 draft, Montgomery had the opportunity to play for his idol when he was promoted to the bigs four years later. But after just 19 innings with the club in 1987, Rose told Reds GM Murray Cook the following February that Montgomery couldn't play for him. A month later, the budding closer was traded to the Kansas City Royals for prospect Vin Snider.
As Snider floundered in the Reds' farm system, Montgomery flourished in Kansas City. When Steve Farr got injured in August 1989, he stepped up as the main stopper for the last month and a half of the season. Although he saved 18 games with a 1.37 ERA and tallied 94 strikeouts in 92 innings, the Royals signed reliever Mark Davis, the NL Cy Young Award winner, in the offseason. But Davis started poorly in 1990, and Montgomery took advantage of the situation by recording 24 saves that year and 33 the next.
With Davis out of the picture, Montgomery was acknowledged as the club's true closer in 1993. The new confidence that the title brought helped him to a career year, as he racked up 45 saves and a 2.27 ERA. But with the offensive explosion of the mid-'90s, Montgomery's ERA would never be so low again. He did continue to notch the saves, averaging 24 a year for the rest of his career, but began to rely more on a change-up to baffle batters, as his overpowering fastball and slider lost a little of their velocity.
Despite a brief resurgence in 1998 that saw him total 36 saves, Montgomery's high ERA (4.98) boded ill. Suffering from tendinitis in his right hip through the last couple of months of the following season, Montgomery ended up with a 6.84 ERA that year. However, he did enjoy a personal high when he notched his 300th save on July 25, 1999, becoming the tenth pitcher to reach the landmark, and the first to get them all with the same team. Montgomery retired at the end of the season ninth on the career saves list with 304, to be passed the following year by Rick Aguilera and John Wetteland. (AG/WOR)
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FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»June 6, 1983: The Twins select pitcher Tim Belcher with the first pick in the annual June free-agent draft, but Belcher will reject their $125,000 signing bonus offer and pitch for Team USA in the Pan American Games instead. He is the only first-rounder who doesn't sign. Belcher will be the first selected in the January 1984 draft. The Twins 2nd round pick, P Billy Swift, also doesn't sign. The Reds take Kurt Stillwell with the 2nd pick overall and Chris Sabo on round 2. Roger Clemens is taken with the 19th pick. The A's get Terry Steinbach, Brian Dorsett, and Greg Cadaret on the 9th, 10th and 11th rounds. The Phillies pick Ricky Jordan on the 1st round. The Reds pick up Stillwell in the 1st round, Sabo and Joe Oliver in the 2nd round, Lenny Harris (5th) and Jeff Montgomery (9th).
»August 12, 1997:
Dean Palmer homers and drives in four runs as the Kansas City Royals end the New York Yankees' three-game winning streak with a 6-4 victory. Palmer, who is 10-for-21 with runners in scoring position and has 16 RBIs in 18 games since coming over in a trade with Texas, singles home a run in the fourth, opens the 6th with his 17th homer, and hits a go-ahead, two-run double in the 7th. Mike Perez (2-0), the second of five Royals' pitchers, is the winner. Jeff Montgomery pitches the 9th for his eighth save, the 250th of his career. He retires 32 consecutive batters, one shy of the club record, before Bernie Williams singles with two outs in the ninth.
»August 25, 1999:
The Royals defeat the Orioles, 8-6, as KC P Jeff Montgomery becomes the 10th hurler to notch 300 saves. In doing so, he becomes the first to record all of them with the same team.