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After championship finish, Cubs’ Montgomery ready to start again

Look closely, and you can see Mike Montgomery in the middle of the Cubs' World Series-winning celebration after earning his first career save.

MESA, Ariz. — Madison Bumgarner, Jack Morris, Bob Gibson, Rollie Fingers and Mike Montgomery.

It’s obvious what they all have in common, right? They’re among the 15 pitchers in the last 50 years to throw the final pitch in a Game 7 to clinch a World Series championship.

‘‘It’s only two pitches, but I’ve watched it a few times,’’ said Montgomery, who can be seen in the middle of the Cubs’ celebration photo from that victory Nov. 2 in Cleveland. ‘‘It was just incredible — even now — to see pictures, me just with my arm raised in the middle of the whole pile. It’s like, ‘Man, this really just happened.’

‘‘It just goes to show you, you never know. I wouldn’t have imagined winning a World Series this time last year, let alone being kind of in the middle of it there at the end.’’

<em>Montgomery, arms raised, after the final out of Game 7.</em>
Montgomery, arms raised, after the final out of Game 7.

Montgomery was with Mariners last spring, trying to make the roster after a 16-start big-league debut in 2015. By the end of the season, the left-hander was in the Cubs’ revamped bullpen. And this spring, he’s in what might be the most significant position battle for the reigning World Series champs.

Who replaces Dexter Fowler as the leadoff man might be the sexiest question entering camp, but there’s little suspense surrounding which position players will get playing time or whether the lineup will be able to score runs.

If there’s any suspense, the pitching is where you’ll find it. Montgomery and recently signed lefty Brett Anderson are the top candidates to fill Jason Hammel’s vacated rotation spot. Both could be especially significant for an otherwise-loaded team still crossing its fingers about its starting-pitching depth.

‘‘I think I can play a big part [of the repeat effort],’’ Montgomery said after a workout Monday, the day before pitchers and catchers were to report to camp. ‘‘I’ve always been a starter, and I think last year was a situation where the need was in the bullpen, both with Seattle and with the Cubs early on. Then I filled the role of being a starter for short periods of time, so I’ve talked to them about [that versatility].’’

Montgomery, 27, made five starts for the Cubs last summer and had a 3.33 ERA in those games. Team officials have talked about him prominently in the Cubs’ rotation plans all winter.

‘‘I don’t know if it’s [my job] to lose,’’ he said. ‘‘I look at it as it’s going to be competition. There’s a lot of good pitchers here. Every camp I’ve ever been in, you’re always competing with somebody. And I enjoy that. It’s a challenge. But I think that’s how it should be because it gets the best out of players.’’

When the Cubs signed Anderson, a career starter, for $3.5 million two weeks ago, Montgomery’s starting status might have taken a hit. But Montgomery is looking more at the big picture — the one he hopes will look a lot like that celebration photo in about 8½ months.

‘‘[Anderson] can definitely help us,’’ Montgomery said.

Montgomery also talked about the Cubs’ newfound knowledge of how to win a championship.

‘‘You’ve just got to be persistent, really,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s the mindset I feel like a lot of us need to keep because you don’t want to get complacent. I mean, yeah, it’s great to win a World Series, but this is a new year, a new challenge. Last year’s great, but that’s last year. It’s a new year.’’

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com