In the Astros 7-5 victory over the Padres on Saturday, the top of the 7th was noteworthy.
With Houston clinging to a two-run lead and Hector Neris and Kendall Graveman already spent, and Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly being reserved for the 8th and 9th, the Astros didn't have a leverage arm to turn to.
Or did they?
Rafael Montero was lights out in 2022, posting a 2.37 ERA in the regular season and a 2.25 in the playoffs. He was rewarded with a three-year contract extension worth $34.5 million.
Through three months, the deal was a nightmare. Montero woke up on July 1 with a 7.29 ERA. He recorded a 12.10 ERA in May and an 8.49 in June. Opponents were absolutely teeing off on the reliever.
And then, overnight, the Montero of 2022 was back.
As a result of his prolonged struggles to begin the year, his total numbers on the season still don't look great, but he's been an entirely different pitcher since the calendar turned to July.
Montero entered yesterday's game with a 5.06 ERA. He was facing the heart of the Padres order. With Juan Soto, Manny Machado, and Xander Bogaerts stepping into the box, the game hung in the balance.
Montero made light work of the trio. He struck out Soto, got Machado to ground out, and blew Bogaerts up for a lineout that left the bat at 54.1 mph.
The outing lowered Montero's ERA on the season to 4.98. It's slightly misleading, as in the second half, Montero has a 2.11 ERA. After hitting .303 on Montero in the first half, opponents are hitting only .182 with a .591 OPS in the second half.
Was the contract extension still ill-advised? More than likely.
But with a division race coming down to the wire and the starting rotation continuing to struggle, the Astros are desperate for reliable relievers.
Don't look now, but Rafael Montero is well on his way to establishing himself as one again.