TORONTO — When the Yankees chose Jordan Montgomery in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, it wasn’t because he dazzled them with a high-90s fastball, wipeout slider or drop-off-the-table curveball.
The lefthander had a solid five-pitch repertoire, but he didn’t have any of those.
What he did have, Yankees amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer said in early April after the club announced that Montgomery would be the fifth starter, was perhaps a pitcher’s most important attribute.
“It was always the hitters didn’t have a comfortable at-bat,” Oppenheimer said, mentioning the deception in the 6-6 Montgomery’s delivery and the difficulty batters had in picking up the ball.
The Blue Jays certainly can attest to that.
In his 10th career start, Montgomery, 24, kept the Jays off-balance for six innings Saturday in the Yankees’ 7-0 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 47,226 at Rogers Centre.
The Yankees (32-21) broke open a relatively close game late, belting four home runs off Jason Grilli in a span of six batters in the eighth inning. Brett Gardner hit his 12th and, after consecutive outs, Matt Holliday (No. 12), Starlin Castro (No. 9) and Didi Gregorius (No. 4) went back-to-back-to-back to make it 7-0.
The Yankees didn’t have a single single in the game. Of their eight hits, four were home runs and four were doubles.
Blue Jays righthander Joe Biagini allowed three runs (one earned) and four hits in seven innings in a solid effort and deserved a better fate. He allowed two unearned runs in the third and back-to-back bloop doubles by Castro and Gregorius in the seventh. That set the stage for the torch job by Grilli, who became the first Toronto reliever in franchise history to allow four homers in an inning.
In eight at-bats against Grilli this season, they have five home runs and a double.
But for Gardner, the eighth-inning power surge wasn’t the most significant part of the day. “The best part for me,” he said, “was Jordan Montgomery. He looked really, really good. That’s a really good offense he navigated through.”
“He uses all five pitches and keeps you guessing,” catcher Austin Romine said of Montgomery, who combined with Adam Warren, Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances to hold the Blue Jays (27-29) to three hits, none in the last 4 2⁄3 innings, and strike out nine.
Of Montgomery’s over-the-top angle of delivery, Romine said: “It’s deceptive. When you’re throwing five pitches from the same slot, you saw some of those swings. You’ve got a lot of frustrated hitters out there. He’s not going to overpower guys, but he’s going to get you out with good spin and good placement and a good changeup.”
One opposing team scout said it was clear that Blue Jays batters were struggling. “It’s hard to pick up,” the scout said. “You can see the hitters not getting a real good look. Jose Bautista’s swinging at all kind of [stuff]. All his pitches were working. Breaking ball was sharp, changeup was working. He looks very poised, very non-affected by any type of situations. I’m impressed.”
Montgomery, who walked three, struck out five and thought his changeup was his best pitch in the game, did experience some trouble early but pitched out of it. He stranded two runners in the second, third and fifth innings, striking out Bautista and Kendrys Morales to get out of the third-inning jam.
The Yankees gave Montgomery a lead in the top of the third, with an error opening the door for two unearned runs.
Rob Refsnyder, getting the start at first for the slumping Chris Carter, reached with one out when shortstop Troy Tulowitzki flubbed a routine grounder. Refsnyder stole second, took third on Gardner’s flyout to deep center and scored when Aaron Hicks blooped a 2-and-2 pitch down the rightfield line for an RBI double, his 15th hit in his last 36 at-bats.
Aaron Judge then smoked an 0-and-2 cutter — MLB Statcast measured the exit velocity at 116.2 mph — to deep centerfield. Kevin Pillar went back into the shadows and leaped but had the ball go off his glove for an RBI double that made it 2-0.
It was yet another Judge moment that caused heads to shake in his dugout, almost a daily occurrence.
Gardner called it “ridiculous” how hard Judge hits the ball, and Holliday, whose eighth-inning homer measured in at 442 feet and connected with the facing of the restaurant in left-centerfield, said: “I think we’ve all come to realize he hits the ball harder than anybody else.”
Holliday added: “It feels like he’s hitting a ball every day where I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ You combine 6-8, 280 and a great swing . . . When he gets his pitch, he doesn’t miss it.”
Saturday marked the third time that the Yankees hit four home runs in the same inning. Remarkably, they came in the eighth each time:
June 30, 1977 at Toronto
1. Cliff Johnson (solo, off Jerry Garvin)
2.Lou Piniello (solo, off Garvin)
3. Thurman Munson (3-run, off Jerry Johnson)
4. Cliff Johnson (2-run, off Johnson)
*Johnson also homered in the fourth inning, giving him three for the game.
June 2, 2005 vs. Tampa Bay
1. Jorge Posada (2-run, off Travis Harper)
2. Gary Sheffield (3-run, off Harper
3. Alex Rodriguez (solo, off Harper)
4. Hideki Matsui (solo, off Harper)
Sheffield, A-Rod and Matsui’s home runs were in succession.
*Sheffield also homered in the fifth inning and Derek Jeter homered in the sixth.
June 3, 2017 at Toronto
1. Brett Gardner (solo, off Jason Grilli)
2. Matt Holliday (solo, off Grilli)
3. Starlin Casto (solo, off Grilli)
4. Didi Gregorius (solo, off Grilli)
*Holliday, Castros, Gregorius’ home runs were in succession.