Frankie Montas was a consolation prize at the trade deadline, and by definition consolation prizes are meant to console their recipients. Problem was, when Yankees fans left the Stadium for their cars and trains on Thursday night, they experienced a thousand different feelings.
And consoled wasn’t one of them.
They felt anxiety, anger, frustration, and a little fear. They felt concerned that their pitching staff could be an issue in October, and that Montas, to date, has looked more like a problem than a solution.
They also felt certain that Luis Castillo wouldn’t be causing them any such stress.
Yes, it’s very early for the new guy in town, who was making his third start as a Yankee and his first in The Bronx. But his timing here was terrible. One night after the most dramatic victory of the season, made possible by Josh Donaldson’s grand slam in the 10th, Montas killed off whatever feel-good momentum might’ve carried over. He spiked the notion that the reeling Yanks had finally righted themselves and were fixing to go on another tear.
Montas allowed Toronto six runs and eight hits over six innings, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s three-run shot, failing to give his team a reasonable chance to win in what would be a 9-2 defeat. In 14 innings as a Yankee, Montas has surrendered 14 runs and 18 hits.
That’s not good. That’s not acceptable.
That’s not anything close to what the Yanks traded for.
His manager, Aaron Boone, doesn’t believe Montas has been impacted by what he called “jitters,” and doesn’t think there are any lingering effects from the pitcher’s shoulder inflammation. Whatever is going wrong, Boone said, “We’ve got to start getting results, obviously.”
On his end, Montas admitted that this wasn’t just another night game against the Blue Jays.
“A lot of emotions coming to Yankee Stadium,” he said in a clubhouse interview. “Of course, I want to go out there and do my best. This is not my best.”
He allowed himself a light laugh, if only to break the tension. Hours earlier, Boone had spent a lot of time talking about the harsh realities of public life in New York, and how the burden of expectation weighs more heavily on some than others.
Yet Boone was also quick to point out how baseball “has a way of changing on a dime.” He brought up Mets closer Edwin Diaz. “He couldn’t pitch here [in 2019],” Boone said. “I think he can pitch here now.”
In other words, Montas still has the rest of the season to revise his manuscript and write a happy ending. Maybe he will string together four or five encouraging starts in a row. Maybe he will be lights out in the postseason.
And maybe he won’t.
But this is what we know so far: The Yankees wanted Castillo at the deadline, and weren’t willing to part with their top prospect, shortstop Anthony Volpe, to get him. So Cincinnati sent Castillo to Seattle for a better package of goods, and the Yankees started talking themselves into believing there wasn’t a big difference between Castillo and Oakland’s Montas, who didn’t cost nearly as much.
That difference now looks bigger than the Yankees’ lead in the AL East, a fact that brings us to the good news: Montas isn’t going to hurt his new team in the standings. The Yankees will win their division running away.
The bad news: He might hurt them in their pursuit of the Astros for home-field advantage in the ALCS, while failing to match the performances of the man he replaced, Jordan Montgomery, now busy lighting it up for the Cardinals.
Montgomery and Castillo are doing exactly what their new employers hoped for, while Montas is still trying to find his legs. It was a shame this didn’t work out for him Thursday night, in front of an energetic crowd drawing from the magic of the night before.
Montas posed for pregame pictures with his wife and kids, all of them dressed in the pitcher’s No. 47 jersey. The family looked great in pinstripes. The pitcher kissed them one by one, then went to work. He had no idea he was walking straight into a dreadful night at the office.
At least he has a manager who can tell him a thing or two about tough days in The Bronx. On Wednesday night, when it seemed all was lost in the 10th, that manager heard the fans who were chanting, “Fire Boone.” His response?
“I stood up a little prouder on the top step and said, ‘OK, it goes with the territory sometimes here,’ ” he said. Boone spoke of what comes “with putting this uniform on,” and reminded that athletes (and coaches) can’t allow themselves to be diminished by the noise.
Boone has the security of a fresh three-year deal with a fourth-year club option, not to mention the credibility that comes with hitting a walk-off Game 7 homer against the Red Sox, and yet the fans never hesitate to go after him. He’s a big boy. He knows how to handle it.
His starting pitcher Thursday night? He didn’t hear much in the way of anger from the stands when his home debut turned south. But if this continues, well, the fans will respond in kind. They always do.
Meanwhile, Frankie Montas is giving the Yankees exactly what most consolation prizes give their recipients — no consolation.