Until Tuesday afternoon, Jordan Montgomery said he never thought about playing for another team.
“I used to think I’d be a Yankee for life,” Montgomery said.
Instead, he’ll be facing his former team in his first start as a Cardinal when he takes the mound Saturday at Busch Stadium after he was traded for outfielder Harrison Bader shortly before the Tuesday deadline.
“It’s awkward,’’ Montgomery said in St. Louis before the Yankees’ 4-3 series-opening loss to the Cardinals on Friday. “It’s strange timing, but it’s a business and I’ll treat it like any other game. … I didn’t want to face them the first time I’m pitching for a new organization, but I’m a competitor and will shake off the nerves.”
General manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees determined the injured Bader and the depth and speed he provides in the outfield outweighed the value Montgomery provided, especially in October.
“If [Cashman] thinks that, I don’t care,’’ Montgomery said. “I’m excited to be wanted. I’m a Cardinal now. I’ll give it my best.”
Montgomery was upset and emotional after learning of the trade, but said his attitude has changed since arriving in St. Louis.
“It’s a good baseball team,’’ Montgomery said. “If I could be somewhere other than New York, it would be here.”
Former Cardinal Matt Carpenter talked to his old teammates about Montgomery, who said that made the transition easier.
“I know the emotions he was going through,’’ said Carpenter, who is making his return to the city where he spent his entire major league career until this season.
“[The trade] happened so fast,’’ Carpenter said. “He played his whole career [in New York]. It’s a great place, a special place and he didn’t really know what to think. And I was trying to fire him up [by saying], ‘It’s hard for you to realize this now, but you’re gonna love this. … You’re a perfect fit for over there. You might not see it now, but it’s gonna be great for you. I think he heard it.”
On his way out of The Bronx, Montgomery described his mindset as “loves baseball, works hard, [is] a good teammate and will die on the mound.”
It’s an attitude he partially picked up from fellow lefty CC Sabathia, a teammate early in Montgomery’s career. And Montgomery clearly wished at times he pitched in a different era, when starters tended to pitch deeper into games.
But it was that lack of put-away stuff that at times drove up Montgomery’s pitch count and helped the Yankees decide that he wasn’t in their playoff rotation plans — and then not in their plans at all.
Still, through 21 starts, Montgomery had a career-best WHIP of 1.10 and while his strikeouts were down nearly two per nine innings this season, he had matched a career-best 1.8 walks per nine.
But his last two outings as a Yankee were rough.
Montgomery got knocked out in the third inning of his July 26 start at Citi Field against the Mets, when he allowed two homers and five runs in just 2 ¹/₃ innings.
He was also shaky on Sunday against the Royals, giving up four runs in four innings.
While he pitched well at times in July, the Yankees lost all six of his starts, as Montgomery — as he often was during his Yankees tenure — was a victim of spotty run support. Only Gerrit Cole had made more starts and pitched more innings for the Yankees this season.
But with their eyes already on the postseason, the Yankees determined the possibility of Bader in the outfield was more valuable than Montgomery on the mound, since they hope to have Cole, Frankie Montas, Nestor Cortes and perhaps Luis Severino or Jameson Taillon in the rotation and can survive with Domingo German — who will start against Montgomery for the Yankees on Saturday — there in the regular season.