By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — In a season of physical and mental highs and lows, Saturday brought the sweetest of nights for Cubs catcher Miguel Montero.
Montero’s eighth-inning pinch-hit grand slam broke a 3-3 tie in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, propelling the Cubs to an 8-4 win against the Dodgers. Montero’s homer came off righty reliever Joe Blanton, leaving Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to shake his head at what happened after Los Angeles had tied the game in the top half off Chicago closer Aroldis Chapman.
“I have trusted Joe all year long,” Roberts said after the devastating loss. “He has been great for us. He got ahead 0-2 and left a pitch up. I felt good before that knowing we forced Chapman out of the game. It just didn’t work out. Our guys fought hard. It was a well-played game.”
The 33-year-old Montero was almost left off of the NLCS roster because of back stiffness, but he got his moment in under the October moon and made the most of it. Montero struggled through much of the 2016 season with injuries and poor play, so him becoming the hero was a welcome sight to all of his teammates.
“He has grinded out at-bats all year in situations he was not accustomed to,” said Ben Zobrist, who started the eighth-inning rally with a double. “He is really reaping the reward of the attitude he has taken all season. He showed up all year as a professional, believing he could help the team and his teammates whether he felt good or not.”
Many players would have been bitter amid struggles and a reduced role as the Cubs carried three catchers for long stretches, but Montero kept a positive attitude. The Cubs’ training and medical staff helped get him on the field Saturday, and the rest was up to Montero.
“He was used to playing every day,” Zobrist said. “Instead of pouting about not playing, he takes the high road and he becomes a veteran leader on the bench. That is difficult to do when you are not playing as much as you normally do. He would not be doing what he is doing right now for us without that attitude he developed.”
Montero was a last-minute addition to the NLCS roster due to a locked-up back dating back to Tuesday in San Francisco.
“I don’t know where that swing came from,” Montero said of his grand slam. “My back felt pretty good, enough to play today. It has been tough. It’s been difficult. When you are used to playing every day and you have three catchers, you have to man up. That is what I have been doing this year. I have tried to be the best teammate I can be, and the times I do play, do my job.”
Montero’s blast marked the first time in Cubs postseason history that a grand slam provided the game-winning run. It will at least be a footnote in Cubs history for many years to come — and perhaps something more if Chicago can end its championship drought.
“I had missed a slider (early in the count) and in the back of my head I was saying, ‘I want that slider back,'” Montero said. “I guess he must have heard me. He threw it again, and luckily I hit the ball pretty good.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.