Let’s see. The Phillies sat 22-29 and having lost 11 of their previous 17 when they executed manager Joe Girardi in favour of Rob Thomson—whose team has gone 24-14 since.
The Angels went from 27-17 to 27-29, the first team in major league history to plunge from ten games over .500 to a twelve-game losing streak, and sent manager Joe Maddon to the guillotine in favour of Phil Nevin. Nevin’s crew has gone 12-21 since, including 2-11 to open July.
The Blue Jays went 46-42 through Wednesday morning but suffered a five-game losing streak after opening July with a win, went 1-7 against one American League West wild-card contender and one of the division’s weaker teams, and awoke Wednesday at 2-12 for the month to date. Thus did they decide manager Charlie Montoya had a date with the firing squad despite the Jays beating those Phillies Tuesday.
Bench coach John Schneider was handed the bridge with the usual “interim” tag. The Blue Jays’ first act under their interim commander was to beat the Phillies to sweep a two-game set. Thomson’s been a steady skipper thus far; Nevin’s been little more than an apprentice seaman. One win isn’t enough to make the call on Schneider.
But something stunk about Montoya’s firing at first that was a little more profound than the fragrances surrounding the Girardi and Maddon executions. The timing especially.
Earlier this month first base coach Mark Budzinski’s seventeen-year-old daughter Julia was killed in a tubing accident. On Monday, Montoyo—who’d left the dugout with Budzinski in the middle of a doubleheader on receiving the news—joined other team reps in attending Julia Budzinski’s funeral.
Maybe collapsing to a 2-12 July opening gave the Jays enough reason to think Montoyo had to go, but with the All-Star break approaching it’s not unreasonable to think they might have waited just a short while longer, maybe on the eve of the break itself, to align the firing squad.
This may have been the second most cold-blooded managerial firing in modern major league history. The first would have to have been the Yankees dumping pennant-winning manager Yogi Berra in favour of the man who beat him in the 1964 World Series, the Cardinals’ Johnny Keane, the day after the Cardinals won in seven, a move that was planned back-channel before the Yankees put on the stretch drive (going 30-13) that nailed their pennant in the first place.
It looked even worse if you thought about was Montoyo having managed the Jays to 91 wins and a near-miss to the 2021 postseason despite the continuing coronavirus pan-damn-ic compelling the team to make three different cities the site of their home games.
But as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic pointed out in the immediacy of Montoyo’s execution, the Jays may have their still-euphemistic “compelling reasons” to give the command to fire. If that’s true, maybe they shouldn’t have let him stay on the bridge with a one-year extension and a couple of option years to follow to open the season in the first place.
Like Girardi and Maddon before him, Montoya bore the burden of a misconstructed team even if it’s a team still in the new but dubious wild card hunt. It wasn’t Montoya who delivered a bullpen that finds as many bats as it misses or a starting rotation whose rear end resembles the northbound end of a southbound moose.
They opened July in second place in the tough American League East, but hitting the skid let the re-horsing Red Sox and the Rays pass them in the division standings while letting the Mariners match them for the third wild card thus far.
Now it comes forth, too, that some in the Jays clubhouse thought they needed a somewhat firmer hand when they hit the skid and Montoyo, as loved and popular as he was on the bridge, wasn’t quite the man to offer that hand.
Athletic Blue Jays beat reporter Kaitlyn McGrath found at least two players willing to talk about the clubhouse atmosphere, one anonymously but another willing to go on the record. Of course.
The anonymous Jay told McGrath that hitting the skid required what Montoyo apparently lacked. “When you’re [in a] 1-9 [slump], you’re looking for someone to come in and either kick you in the ass or pump you up, just something, some guidance,” the player said. “And you could have it as players, for sure, and we did, but you really do need it coming from the top and that just wasn’t happening . . . If we were playing better, this wouldn’t have been as much of an issue, but we weren’t, so you’re looking for leadership and a lot of us felt like it wasn’t really there.”
But even that didn’t erode the respect the Jays’ players have for Montoyo the man, if you take the word of pitcher Ross Stripling, who earned the Wednesday win against the Phillies with six strikouts but eight ground outs and ten fly outs in seven innings during which he surrendered two earned runs on two hits.
“I don’t think anyone would ever think that he doesn’t want us to have success individually or as a team, the whole Blue Jays organization,” Stripling told McGrath.
He had our backs all the time and wanted us to win baseball games. And it’s a shame—he’s been here since 2019, when this kind of young core got going—that he’s not going to be there to see a lot of their success and where they go and where we go as a team. But I think everyone would say thank you to him and the effort that he gave us for the years that he did and that we love him and wish him well.
General manager Ross Atkins, who carried the execution forth, said it’s not “necessarily” good starting pitching and good bullpens alone that contend and win. “Look at the history of the game,” he said, “good teams win championships. The person to look to is me. I’m the one that needs to be accountable. And we will continue to work hard in every area of our team to improve.”
In other words, don’t blame me because Charlie couldn’t make do with shallow starting and bullpen bulls.
For now the Phillies have lived a somewhat charmed team life since Girardi’s dismissal, even while losing Bryce Harper to a thumb fracture after the right fielder was limited to DH duty thanks to an elbow injury. They’re only nine games out of first in the National League East, though they have a formidable wall to climb with the first-place Mets and the second-place (and defending World Series champion) Braves making life none too simple.
The Angels? They could bring Casey Stengel back from the dead and still sputter. Especially since, in addition to their still-usual pitching problems not named Shohei Ohtani, the bottom of their order became such a trainwreck that it didn’t matter what the bigger bats did. It comes into sadder play when such bigger bats hit the slumps to which all bats are prone, even those of future Hall of Famers.
Nevin’s tenure has been a plane crash thus far. Especially when he landed himself a ten-game suspension for being none too subtle about looking to avenge a ninth-inning Mike Trout head hunt the night before and sending an opener to start the game and exact revenge. The Mariners may have had it coming, but one behind-the-back pitch and a subsequent plunk was out of line.
And while the umpires sounded mealymouthed in not starting the game with warnings after Trout was inches from decapitation in the ninth the night before, the ensuing brawl after Andrew Wantz hit Jesse Winker in the hip cost Nevin a key relief pitcher (Archie Bradley) for a month, at least, when he hopped over the rail to join the fracas and broke a bone in his pitching elbow.
It’s gotten to the point where the published calls for the Angels to start thinking about the once-impossible: trading both Trout at this year’s trade deadline and Ohtani before he reaches his first free agency, the better to get a replenishing return (hopefully, with pitching slightly above the level of arthritic cleaning crews) while the getting is prime—aren’t waiting until their season is all but officially dead.
So the Blue Jays aren’t exactly that bad off just yet. It’s still too soon to call a single win under a new bridge commander the beginning of an in-season resurgence. Who knows what Atkins might move upon as the trade deadline approaches? But there’s still something badly disconcerting about the Montoya execution. The man’s been a class act who’ll probably get another chance to take another major league bridge soon enough.
There may yet be more to come in the way of deeper details. As often as not, there usually are. And it’s not impossible to ponder whether Atkins himself might now be on a seat whose temperature rises a little more as the season goes forward.