Before Friday night, Mike Montgomery had never taken a no-hitter through seven innings.
On paper, those seven innings were some of the best the Rays' eighth-ranked prospect has ever pitched. And that made it all the more surprising that Triple-A Durham wound up on the losing end at Indianapolis.
The Bulls' bullpen surrendered five runs after Montgomery was pulled as the Indians rallied for an unlikely 6-5 win at Victory Field.
Until the eighth, Montgomery appeared well on the way to his third win in four starts. Acquired from the Royals with Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi in the James Shields trade last December, he missed nearly all of April with a tweak in his left forearm. After a couple of rehab outings in the Florida State League, he rejoined the Bulls on May 23.
In his first three starts back in the International League, the 23-year-old southpaw registered a 5.06 ERA over 16 innings. He seemed to gain his footing Friday, working around a pair of walks and facing the minimum until John McDonald led off the seventh with a walk and moved up on a wild pitch before getting stranded.
Montgomery also walked Jared Goedert to open the eighth and exited after throwing 56 of 99 pitches for strikes. Tony Sanchez ended Durham's no-hit bid by greeting Juan Sandoval with an RBI double that sliced the Indians' deficit to 4-1. Brett Carroll followed with a run-scoring single and McDonald was hit by a pitch with two outs.
Jeff Beliveau (1-2) relieved Sandoval and walked Alex Presley, the only batter he faced, to load the bases. Kirby Yates uncorked a wild pitch that scored Carroll and shortstop Mike Fontenot's error allowed the tying and go-ahead runs to score before Matt Hague capped the six-run rally with an RBI single.
Montgomery is looking to turn things around in his new organization after struggling in 2012, when he went 5-12 with a 6.07 ERA over 149 2/3 innings between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. That followed a 2011 season in which he was 5-11 with a 5.32 ERA in 150 2/3 innings for the Storm Chasers.
"The stuff has and continues to be there for Montgomery, but the results haven't," MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo wrote of Montgomery in the offseason. "He was demoted in 2012 and still struggled in Double-A. Perhaps a change of scenery will help, as Montgomery still has the potential to throw three above-average pitches with his fastball, slider and changeup. More than anything, his issues have been command and delivery-related. If the Rays can get him straightened out, he still has the tools to be one of the better young left-handers in the game."
Before 2011, Montgomery ranked among baseball's top 20 prospects after compiling a 2.61 ERA across three levels in the Royals organization. In March, he told Mayo his focus in coming to Tampa Bay was refining his approach to pitching, which had become somewhat fastball-dependent and predictable.
"The toughest thing to learn is to learn how to pitch," Montgomery explained. "It's a learning experience. It's a tough thing to do. Having that kind of focus, on every pitch, takes a lot of practice, a lot of skill. That's what I'm working on this year."
Shelley Duncan slugged a two-run homer and Leslie Anderson hit a solo shot for the Bulls, who fell to 33-2 when leading after seven innings.