DURHAM, N.C.—Ten months ago, Durham lefthander Mike Montgomery left his start against the Indianapolis Indians having thrown seven hitless innings, his shot at history entrusted to his bullpen.
His teammates not only failed to get Montgomery and themselves in the record books, they also failed to protect the five-run lead he’d handed them. The Bulls lost that game, and Montgomery’s effort was good only for an “attaboy” from his manager and coaching staff.
On Saturday, on a warm spring evening at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, with Rays general manager Andrew Friedman watching from the stands, everything fell into place. Montgomery spun 8 1/3 hitless innings before hitting his pitch count and being lifted by manager Charlie Montoyo to a serenade first of raucous applause for his effort, then of virulent boos for Montoyo’s decision.
Boxberger did his job, inducing a grounder from Antoan Richardson before getting Jose Pirela to wave at a slider to seal both the no-hitter and Durham’s 5-0 win over the visiting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
“It was a lot of fun out there,” Montgomery said afterward, his hat ruined from the shaving cream pie he’d received during his on-field interview. “Things started working, and I just started attacking pitches and I got to a point where, whatever (catcher Ali) Solis was putting down there, I’m throwing.”
Montgomery was on a pitch count of 105, and he exceeded it by one. With Montgomery at 103 pitches entering the ninth, Montoyo knew it would be impossible for Montgomery to complete the game and stay under his limit for the evening. Even so, he had a reason for letting him face one more batter.
“So he can get applause,” Montoyo said. “I didn’t expect that big of a boo (for removing him), but it was his moment. It was about him, and he got a big applause after this one.”
In his postgame remarks, Montoyo made sure to address the fact that, pitch count or not, a no-hitter, combined or otherwise, is something to be celebrated. Montgomery pitched the game of his life—he’d never been a part of a no-hitter at any level—and his accomplishment, on the part of both Montgomery and his team as a whole should not be obscured.
“I just don’t want the pitch count to take away from what he did, since that’s all we’re talking about,” Montoyo said. “The pitch count is the pitch count. It was a combined no-hitter. The other guy had to get two outs for that to happen, so he deserves some credit.”
Boxberger, who already has one stint in the big leagues under his belt this year, said he did feel a little pressure entering the game with so much on the line.
“Just to finish something that Montgomery started,” he said, “it means a lot to him and it means a lot to us as a pitching staff to be able to go out there and do it. I kind of knew (Montgomery’s removal) was coming. His pitch count was up there a little bit and it’s pretty early in the year, so they didn’t want to run him out there too much. It’s a shame that we weren’t actually able to see him go the whole nine.”