Monday, August 24, 2009

'That was for you, Monty'

Greg Montalbano never had a chance since that first battle with testicular cancer as a college freshman in 1996. Operations were followed by more tumors that were followed by more operations that were followed by more tumors.

Montalbano once referred to himself as a “tumor machine.”

Montalbano never had a chance.

But he had friends, and two of those friends honored his passing Saturday morning with big days on the baseball field.

In Boston, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis tied a career-high with six RBIs in the Red Sox’s 14-1 against the Yankees.

Closer to home, Rays first baseman Carlos Peña homered twice, scored three times and drove in four runs, including the game-winner in the bottom of the 10th to push the Rays past the visiting Rangers 5-4.

“He was my right-hand man in college,” Peña said of his former teammate at Northeastern. "The one thing that comforts me is I know he’s in a better place, but we’re going to miss him greatly.”

At some point while Youkilis was taking his grief out on the Yankees, Peña wrote a message on a piece of paper: “That was for you, Monty.”

“I just figured that I’d make a little note,” Peña said, “and if something happened I’d flash it to the camera.”

That “something” happened in the second inning when Peña drove a fastball from Rangers pitcher Tommy Hunter into the right-field seats.

Peña flashed the sign toward the TV camera next to the Rays dugout after he circled the bases.
“I hope the family saw it,” Peña said.

Peña hit a two-run homer off Hunter in the fourth inning for his American League-leading 34th home run.

In the eighth, Peña scored what appeared to be the winning run when he hustled home from first on Pat Burrell’s two-out double off the top of the left-field wall.

Rays closer J.P. Howell blew his first ninth-inning save of the season in the ninth, but all that did was set Peña up for another big hit.

Rangers relief pitcher Jason Grilli came on to pitch the 10th. He drilled Rays leadoff hitter Evan Longoria and walked Ben Zobrist.

Peña stepped up and singled to center to score Longoria.

“His good buddy passed away, and he got a little emotional lift to get through this game with the game-winning knock,” Howell said. “It’s pretty impressive, and that makes you wonder if there’s other things out there helping you out.”

It was Peña’s third two-home run game of the season and the 16th of his career. It was also the third time since August 2008 that Peña ended a game with a hit, though it was the first this season.

“You realize how blessed we are,” Peña said. “I dedicated this game to him (Montalbano) and for his memory.”

Here is a link to a great story on Montalbano that ran in the Boston Globe last October while the Rays were in Boston playing the Red Sox in the ALCS

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