The catching combination of Welington Castillo and John Baker wasn’t necessarily an area of strength for the 2014 Chicago Cubs. Theo Epstein recognized that fact and brought in two-time All-Star Miguel Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks ahead of the 2015 campaign.
With the Cubs emerging from their half-decade rebuild under Epstein, Montero immediately provided a boost behind the dish in 2015. He appeared in 113 games, putting up a 108 OPS+ and adding another veteran presence on a very young club.
He wasn’t as effective the following year, but that was largely overlooked by the emergence of then-rookie Willson Contreras. But when we talk about Montero’s brief Cubs career – what he did in the regular season that year doesn’t matter. His legacy will always be about one critical at-bat in October.
If there’s one moment his two-plus years on the North Side provided that will stand the test of time, it’s his pinch-hit, go-ahead grand slam in Game 1 of the 2016 NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was one of those instances that actually shook Wrigley Field to its foundation, with fans on the neighboring rooftops claiming the structures were shaking with how loud it was.
That marked just the third pinch-hit grand slam in MLB postseason history and the first 0-2 slider Dodgers righty Joe Blaton had thrown that left the yard – the previous 273 in his career all stayed in the yard. In short, it was an otherworldly combination of things happening just right (or wrong, if you’re Blanton) – and it really encapsulated the magic we all felt throughout the 2016 season.
Montero bounced back early in 2017, returning to the form we first saw two years earlier. In 44 games, he carried an OPS north of .800, but with the Cubs desperately trying to avoid the oft-discussed World Series hangover, frustrations boiled over after a lopsided loss to the Nationals.
Chicago Cubs: Miguel Montero goes off and the team shows him the door
Chicago had tread water to that point and after the Nationals swiped seven bases on Montero and Jake Arrieta in just four innings, the Cubs backstop felt the need to lay it all out there. The only problem was that airing of grievances took place with members of the media , rather than behind closed doors.
"“It really sucked because the stolen bases go to me,” Montero said. “And when you really look at it, the pitchers doesn’t give me any time. So it’s just like, ‘Yeah ok, Miggy can’t throw anybody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on.”"
Just like that, his teammates turned on him in short order and the Cubs designated him for assignment the next day. Was Arrieta slow to the plate? Sure. Does that account for the fact Montero had gone 0-for-31 throwing out base stealers to that point in the year? No. It was a bullheaded move from a guy who knew better (especially after he had previously criticized manager Joe Maddon’s communication style in a radio interview the prior fall).
Even so, when we look back on his time with the Cubs, hopefully we remember more about that monster blast during the 2016 NLCS than his unceremonious departure that following summer.