HOUSTON – Braves fans will long remember Charlie Morton’s performance in Game 1 of the 2021 World Series. The veteran right-hander emerged from a potentially disastrous first inning, then retired three batters, striking out two, after he was hit in the leg by a line from the bat of American League batting champion Yuli Gurriel.
His final pitch was a characteristic Morton curveball that froze Jose Altuve for a strike three. He winced when he landed on the follow-up, then started walking to the bench even as coach and manager Brian Snitker came out of the dugout. A few innings later, the Braves tweeted that X-rays had revealed a fracture to his right fibula.
“Striking out a guy with a broken leg,” Atlanta catcher Travis d’Arnaud said after the game, “that just blows my mind.”
MORE: World Series Game 2 Start Time, TV Channel
The Braves bullpen took him home on the road, and Atlanta won the game 6-2 to take a 1-0 lead in the World Series. It really was an incredible performance.
My enduring memory of Charlie Morton, however, took place inside the away clubhouse at Dodger Stadium after Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, not long after his Herculean effort: four innings of stellar relief at the deciding point, with a short break after 6 1/3 brilliant innings in his Game 4 start – he helped his Astros claim the first World Series title in franchise history.
Morton was tucked into a locker, out of the way and almost out of sight. There was joy in her eyes and an expression of relief on her face. In this climactic moment of athletic achievement, which absolutely would not have been possible for his team without his efforts, Morton was introspective. His personal career path up to that point had been marked by more disappointments than successes, more frustrations than satisfactions.
But he had persevered. It would come out the other side. Finally.
“I disappointed a lot of people in Pittsburgh,” he said, mentioning his time with the Pirates without being asked. “I pitched in Pittsburgh against the Cardinals, it was a crucial game and they booed me off the field. They changed me that December. I was at Pirate Fest and I got a phone call from the general manager, Neal Huntington. It is a class act. He met me at the hotel and asked me to come down to the lobby, and I knew what was going on at the time. “
Morton recalled the trade to Philadelphia and the mental reset it brought him, but also the hamstring issues that affected his ability to stay on the field. In the first season of the two-year, $ 14 million contract he signed with the Astros in November 2016, a few days after his 33rd birthday, he finally stayed healthy enough to make 25 starts. He pitched the best baseball of his entire career in late October.
In his last three playoff appearances, starting Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and Game 4 of the World Series and capped off with four relief innings to close Game 7, Morton posted a 1.17 ERA. , with seven hits allowed in 15 1/3 innings, compared to 16 strikeouts. In Game 7 against the Dodgers, he retired the last 13 batters of the game.
“I’ve been everything,” he said, tucked into that locker. “I’ve been the guy you couldn’t count on. I’ve been the guy who got hurt all along. And I’ve been the type you can trust in a great situation. That doesn’t define who I am, because I’m not that guy and I’m not that guy. I’m just a human being playing baseball. “
Charlie Morton is the guy who took a line drive from his leg in the second inning: “He told me, ‘That was good for me,’ said d’Arnaud. – and came out again for another frame. He’s the veteran pitcher who struck out Astros star Altuve with a bad ball that broke despite pain.
“That’s Charlie,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He wants to be on this stage.
“I really hate this for him.”
MORE: How to Get a Free Taco, Thanks to Ozzie Albies of the Braves
The question for Snitker and the Braves is, where do they go from here? They are up 1-0 in the series – AJ Minter provided huge 2 2/3 innings after Morton left with injury – but Morton’s absence leaves a huge hole in the conundrum for Atlanta pitchers.
Max Fried and Ian Anderson are the only other two traditional starters on Atlanta’s postseason roster. In the NL Championship Series, the Braves used Morton, Fried and Anderson, then went to a bullpen effort in Game 4 against the Dodgers.
Innings are especially important against the Astros, a team with a deep lineup full of hitters capable of taking at-bats and increasing pitch counts.
Lefty Drew Smyly thinks he sees a bigger role; he wrestled during the regular season and has only made one appearance in this postseason. However, he was excellent in that one outing, pitching 3 1/3 innings as part of the Atlanta bullpen effort in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.
MORE: Why does Dusty Baker wear gloves during games?
Huascar Ynoa would have made sense, but he was taken off the NLCS roster with injury, meaning he is ineligible for the World Series roster. Kyle Wright is on the World Series roster and has starting experience, although his only two major league appearances this season weren’t exactly stellar, producing a 9.95 ERA. He had a 3.05 ERA in 24 Triple-A starts.
The Braves will be allowed an addition to the disabled list to replace Morton, but who gets that call? Maybe Touki Toussaint? He has major league experience and can, in theory at least, offer multiple innings. The right-hander had a 4.50 ERA in 50 innings in the majors and a 3.62 ERA in 27 1/3 innings in the minor leagues. If not Toussaint, Sean Newcomb? Josh Tomlin?
Jacob Webb was on the NLCS list, but it’s not a multiple entry option. The same goes for Richard Rodríguez and Edgar Santana.
There isn’t a Charlie Morton clone hidden in the 40-man list. But he’s not like Morton the first Brave to be knocked out by injury – hello, Ronald Acuña Jr. – but his injury is certainly the most inopportune. We will soon find out if Atlanta can overcome this problem as well.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.