The Mets had started to wonder if those rave reviews of Rafael Montero's off-speed pitches were the farm system version of Santa Claus: apocryphal tales about gifts the youngster was blessed with that, maybe, weren't entirely accurate.
"The reports were that his secondary pitches had been effective," Mets manager Terry Collins said, "but we hadn't seen that here."
Montero, who had a 3.28 ERA in 15 starts for Las Vegas, gave a glimpse of what minor-league coaches and scouts saw in him and what the Mets needed to see from him. In his longest and most effective outing, the rookie allowed a run, five hits and two walks and struck out six in 7 1/3 innings in a no-decision. The Mets fell to the Cubs, 2-1, but Curtis Granderson's tying single in the eighth spared Montero the tough-luck loss.
"The breaking balls we had seen before were those get-me-over kind of tumbling breaking balls," Collins said. "The ones he threw today were much tighter . . . We had heard his changeup was outstanding, and today he showed it."
Montero, 23, was masterful at times, mixing a 93-mph fastball with that vaunted changeup and slider. "We used the changeup a lot," catcher Anthony Recker said. "He was able to keep it down -- start it for a strike and drop it out of the zone."
After being recalled from Triple-A to fill in for Jacob deGrom, the righthander rebounded from his start on Tuesday, when he yielded five earned runs, including three homers, in five innings against the Nationals. He entered Sunday's game 0-3 with a 6.12 ERA and eight homers allowed in 25 innings.
"I made some adjustments and that helped me to put everything together," Montero said through a translator. "Some . I tried to stay closed and be more to the target."
Granted, the Cubs are among the league's worst-hitting teams, but Montero gave up only a fourth-inning RBI single to Luis Valbuena. After walking Justin Ruggiano in the eighth, Montero was pulled and received a rousing ovation.
DeGrom said he felt fine after throwing off a mound Sunday, and his return likely will result in Montero's demotion. But if this was it for him, before a probable September call-up, he certainly made a good last impression. "No doubt about it," Collins said. "No matter what happens here in a few days, he's got to be happy with the way he threw today and his confidence has got be high . . . This was big. It was really important for him to have a game up here where he knows he can be successful."
And a game in which he showed he can be.