Thought #2: The 2017 transition
A general manager or management group for any organization would’ve been leery about taking a chance on Morton. But Jeff Luhnow is unlike any other general manager. While the Houston Astros had acquired good gems with Brian McCann, Josh Reddick, and Carlos Beltran, Morton was just another signing to the franchise. I don’t think any of us would’ve taken him seriously then. But now, I think we’re all glad Luhnow acquired him.
His 2017 stats were off the charts. 14-7 was his record with an ERA of 3.62. In 146.2 innings, he struck out 163 batters. Morton was a perfect number four starter for the Houston Astros behind Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., and eventually, Verlander. But even so, Morton wasn’t seen as a big-time pitcher by us at this point.
His first starts in the playoffs weren’t satisfying. In his Game Four performance of the ALDS against the Red Sox, he only lasted 4.1 innings, giving up two runs off seven hits while striking out six. The Houston Astros still won the game and advanced to the ALCS. But against the Yankees in Game Three, Morton was rocked. 3.2 innings of seven-run, six-hit ball with four walks. This included the ridiculous home run by Todd Frazier, who didn’t have enough swing on his bat and the unfair advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right-field fence.
Obviously, the Houston Astros lost that game and would fall behind 3-2 in the series. Verlander’s game six performance forced a Game 7. But one question was who would start for us then. It was Morton, the man who was rocked by the Yankees in game three, that would start game seven. Yankees fans I’m sure had to be confident because of what they saw before. Not only that, but the Houston Astros had to go up against C.C. Sabathia, who had a reputation of being undefeated in his starts whenever the Yankees lost the game before that season. Surely, things favored the Yankees then.
Well, some time between Game 3 and 7, Morton changed from a rookie Rick Ankiel to Justin Verlander’s second coming. He pitched five strong innings and kept New York scoreless. Along with five strikeouts and help from his defense, Morton left the game with a 4-0 lead and Lance McCullers took over giving the Houston Astros the pennant.
Morton had another strong start in his next appearance in the World Series. He held the Dodgers in check in game four and entered the seventh inning up 1-0 along with seven strikeouts. The only downside was that the Dodgers would tie the game and ended up winning the game. I think manager AJ Hinch made the mistake of pulling him before the Dodgers tied the game. I feel Morton would’ve gotten another zero and we still had a chance for the win.
But we fast forward to Game 7. Anything can happen. We know McCullers was starting and he struggled. The Houston Astros then use Brad Peacock, Francisco Liriano, and Chris Devenski to keep Los Angeles at zero through five innings. We expect Verlander or Keuchel be used in this ballgame. So who of the two does Hinch go to? Nobody! He brings in #50.
Now Morton did give up a run in the sixth and the Dodgers had runners still on base. But, a strikeout and a groundout ended the threat for the Dodgers. Of course, Morton also had to survive a broken-bat heading his way.
As AJ Hinch describes it later on.
"“When he went back out for his second inning, he was completely in control. He was a total different pitcher and it was like his routine was back in place. Then you start counting outs.”"
Morton was dealing. It was like he was getting the nerves out of the way before he would turn down the Dodgers. A perfect seventh and eighth inning brought us to the ninth. We felt like Morton was going to finish it. All he had to do was two words: don’t swing. He was leading off the ninth inning and he struck out. But who cares about that? Morton went back up there, struck out Chase Utley, and got Chris Taylor to ground out to second.
Then, on pitch #52, over three hours after the first pitch, it happened.
Who was the first person the cameras turned to after Gurriel secured the final out? Who was the target of a pileup by his teammates? Who was the person that recorded the final pitch of the final out of the first championship in franchise history? I’m not allowed to swear, but I keep it plain and simple.
CHARLIE F#&%*@# MORTON!