A few months ago, I wondered if we were living in the “age of the closer” and to be honest…I still kinda do.
This off season saw a number of top flight closers change uniforms. Most notably, Francisco Rodriguez packed up his 2008 league leading 62 saves and made the cross country trek from Los Angeles to New York.
With “K-Rod” gone, Brian Fuentes fled Colorado to fill the void in Los Angeles. 2005 Rookie of the Year Huston Street went from Oakland to Colorado as part of the Matt Holliday deal and, well…you see where this is going.
All in all, more than a third of Major League teams have a new closer in place for the 2009 season.
One team that stuck with their hot hand was the Kansas City Royals, with Joakim Soria looking to, again, be one of the top closers in the American League. Soria’s 42 saves last year were the most by a Royal since Jeff Montgomery tied a franchise record with 45 in 1993.
In preparation of Opening Day, I had a chance to talk with Montgomery about some of his memories.
In six Opening Day appearances,
“Monty” was 0-1 with two saves. In 8 2/3 innings, he only gave up one earned run (a Mike Bordick single that plated Carney Lansford in 1992) and struck out 8.
Three of Montgomery’s Opening Day games were at home, the other three were on the road. So I asked him, was it easier throwing off the mound at Kauffman on Opening Day or in Oakland or Baltimore?
MONTY: (It) didn’t matter. Could have been Mars and I wouldn’t have known the difference.
HOVG: Of the Hall of Famers and future Hall members you faced, who was the toughest Opening Day hitter...Cal Ripken, Jr., Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Harold Baines or Roberto Alomar?
MONTY: Harold Baines.
For the record, Montgomery also named Baines as his “toughest out” when we spoke in November. Baines was 6 for 20 against Montgomery and led all opposing hitters with three home runs against the hurler.
HOVG: You also took on Albert Belle (got him to pop out) and Eric Davis (struck him out looking)...was there a batter in particular that made you nervous when he stepped up to the plate?
MONTY: All of them.
It’s worth mentioning that hitters batting .230 against Montgomery on Opening Day.
HOVG: Do your two Opening Day saves mean any more to you than the 302 other saves you picked up in your career?
HOVG: After Chris Sabo reached on an error on Opening Day in 1994, you struck out Mark McLemore, Jeffrey Hammonds and Brady Anderson...all swinging. Is it safe to say that that is one of your fondest Opening Day memories?
MONTY: Not really as I forgot about it. I remember going to the KISS concert afterwards.
HOVG: If striking out the side in Baltimore wasn’t your most memorable moment...what was?
MONTY: My first opening day in 1989 is the one I remember most. Can’t remember if we won or lost but I will never forget the electricity in the air.
HOVG: Is hearing your name on the PA the same when it is in front of close to 40,000 at home in Kansas City on Opening Day as it is when the crowd is a third of that size and it is the middle of August?
MONTY: (There’s) no difference. Opening Day was always special. All of the preparation, hype, the fact that Spring Training was finally over, and being back at home made it one of the best days of the year. Too bad the rest of the games on the schedule were not filled with the same level of excitement as Opening Day.
After being postponed on Monday, the Royals lost their Opening Day contest against the White Sox 4-2. The band KISS is currently touring South America.
***Jeff Montgomery played thirteen seasons in the Majors…twelve of them with the Kansas City Royals. He is a three time All-Star, a member of the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame and their all-time leader in games pitched, games finished and saves. “Monty” resides in the Kansas City area and lends his expertise to Sports Radio 810 WHB-AM.***