For just the second time ever the Chicago Cubs enter Tropicana Field.
In a game surrounded by intrigue, Chris Archer and Mike Montgomery took the hill against a familiar team. Archer was acquired from the Cubs in the 2011 trade that sent Matt Garza to Chicago, while Montgomery spent two seasons in the Tampa Bay system.
Entering tonight, Archer struggled in his last three starts. He’s totaled just seven innings, while allowing 13 runs to score. His ERA ballooned from 3.66 to 4.06 over that span.
He put in a quality start tonight (6IP-4H-2ER-1BB-6K) but it was not enough to impress the 25,046 in attendance. Ultimately, the 2-1 victory sent the visiting Cubs fans home happy for the first time ever.
The Return of Joe
Everything about tonight’s game took a back seat to one single narrative – the return of Joe Maddon. The former Rays skipper entered the visitors clubhouse for the first time since leaving the Rays after the 2014 season. As if Maddon drew it up himself, plenty of drama surrounded his return.
Plenty of fans are still a bit salty about the way Maddon left the Rays. The bottom-line is baseball is a business and he made a decision based on his best interests. He saw an opportunity to take over a Cubs team that, like the Rays when he joined them in 2006, had promising young talent.
Typically time heals all wounds. However, since Maddon just led the Cubbies to their first World Series title in 108 years, it’s as if someone took that saltiness and poured it into those wounds.
The Maddon Impact
Maddon, himself, did not think that the Rays faithful had any reason to harbor any sort of grudge.
“I have nothing but warm and fuzzy feelings here. I would be surprised that people would still be upset,” Maddon said recently per the Tampa Bay Times.
Several players and coaches also felt a bit ‘warm and fuzzy’ about being reunited with their former mate. Third baseman Evan Longoria, pitching coach Jim Hickey, and president of baseball operations Matt Silverman were looking forward to being reunited with the man that helped the club reach the 2008 World Series. During a recent report by Marc Topkin, some messages were directed at the fans and their views toward tonight.
“He was a big part of bringing us from nothing to a really relevant team for a long time. Then he went on and did that somewhere else. Fans have a much different perspective on decisions made by players and coaches on their personal careers. There is this loyalty factor that is expected by a lot fans, but without knowing the business side of things it’s hard to know the decisions that are made by us,” starting pitcher Alex Cobb said.
So What Happen?
Thanks for the memories, Joe! pic.twitter.com/KDfRXB8kau
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) September 19, 2017
But What About the Game?
It was a different former-Ray that took center-stage early on. Mike Montgomery doesn’t have nearly the footprint that Maddon has in the area, but he was once looked at as top-prospect. From 2008-2011 he fluctuated between the No.1 to No.5 ranked prospect in the Royals’ system, per Baseball America.
You may remember Montgomery was included, with Will Myers and Jake Odorizzi, in the deal that sent James Shields to Kansas City. During the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Montgomery was in the Rays’ minor-league system – he never made an appearance with the big-league club.
With his club ahead 2-0 after five innings, Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth. He lost the no-no and the shutout on one pitch. Second baseman Brad Miller quieted the rowdy visiting crowd with a solo home run to right-center field.
The Cubs bullpen came on in relief of Montgomery, and his six scoreless innings, to shut the door.
In his only previous start against the Cubs, Blake Snell (3-6; 4.25) went five scoreless innings on July 5. He’ll look for his fourth victory of the season tomorrow night. Jon Lester (11-7; 4.30) gets the call for Chicago.