HOUSTON – Atlanta won its first World Series game since 1996 on Tuesday, but after all the victors wanted to talk about was what they had lost.
Charlie Morton, who started Game 1, received a direct line from his right leg in the second inning. He retired three more batters before the pain became unbearable. X-rays revealed that the fibula had been ruptured. The exact timeline of the fracture itself is unclear. The team said an X-ray after the second inning was negative, so the coaches allowed him to get back on the mound in the third. After striking out Jose Altuve, Morton pointed to the dugout. A second X-ray, the team said, showed a tear. He was flown to a local imaging center for further testing, but has already been ruled out for the rest of the World Series.
“God bless him, I hate him for him,” manager Brian Snitker said after his team beat the Astros 6-2. “I really hate it for him.”
Snitker and pitching coach Rick Kranitz rejected the idea, which has already caught on, that the comeback immediately broke Morton’s leg and he threw 16 pitches with a broken leg.
“I think it was the force of the ground that did it,” Kranitz said. “I think [the wound] it was already there, and then once you put your foot in … “
Maybe. Or maybe the initial X-ray failed in a minor fracture, and throwing a ball at 96 mph made it less minor. Really do not care. The already impressive legend of Charlie Morton just won a new entry.
He was already the man who posted a 7.57 ERA, the worst in the league in 2010, and then became a two-time All-Star. He was already the man who started the decisive games in the ALDS and ALCS of 2017, then stepped into relief with a three-day rest to close Game 7 of the World Series. Now he is not so much a man as a myth.
“I mean, he hit a guy with a broken leg,” said AJ Minter, who relieved him. “It is quite remarkable.”
Receiver Travis d’Arnaud went further. “It’s amazing that he even thought about going out, and I bet it was so AJ could have more time to prepare,” he said. “He sacrificed himself.”
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It was d’Arnaud who first alerted the coaches that something was wrong. With Atlanta up 3-0 in the second, Morton pumped a 96 mph sink into Yuli Gurriel, who lined him straight back to the mound. It bounced off Morton’s shin; First baseman Freddie Freeman cornered him for the 1-3 out. Snitker checked it out and the pitcher assured his manager that he was fine. Still, Kranitz called the bullpen and told Minter to start mentally preparing to pitch. Meanwhile, Morton struck out Chas McCormick on four pitches and got Martin Maldonado to line up to first base.
After the entry, the stoic Morton acknowledged to d’Arnaud that the momentum of the line had hurt.
“Go see how he is,” D’Arnaud said to Kranitz. “I’ve never heard him say, ‘That one did me good’ before.”
The trainers dragged Morton to the X-ray machine and covered him with duct tape when the scans found no interruptions. He walked back to the mound to the top of the third to face Altuve, the ninth toughest man to strike out in the sport. Morton started it with a cutter on the outer edge of the plate. Altuve took it for strike one. The next pitch was two seams at 95 mph for the first ball. Altuve fouled on a change and took a 96 mph double stitch for ball two. He fouled on a 96 mph four-seam machine. Finally Morton rounded a curveball through the bottom of the zone. He froze Altuve. He screwed up Morton.
He limped into the dugout and returned to the training room, which quickly took on a funereal atmosphere as people filed past to pay their respects.
“You could tell he was devastated, but he wasn’t going to show it,” Minter said.
They will also have to hide their devastation. They still have three games to win. Ace Max Fried will take the ball in Game 2. Minter, who threw 43 pitches Tuesday, the most of his career, will likely be unavailable, but everyone else will be prepared to contribute. Ian Anderson will start Game 3. Drew Smyly could have Game 4. The relievers will have to cover a lot more innings than they planned.
“Every person in that bullpen has a great heart, a great fight,” d’Arnaud said. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but they all have great nuts too.”
They have one less starting pitcher than Monday. But they also have one more victory.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.