Morton's 'dominant' G1 start undone in 7th

Veteran righty racks up 9 K's, surrenders go-ahead 2-run homer to Tellez

October 9th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- Had Braves manager Brian Snitker known what was going to happen, he would not have sent back out for the seventh inning. But given what Morton had done through six innings, there wasn’t necessarily reason for concern.

Morton was constructing what would have been his latest October masterpiece before he surrendered a two-run home run to Rowdy Tellez that gave the Brewers a 2-1 win over the Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday at American Family Field.

“Dominant,” Braves outfielder said when asked to describe Morton’s outing.

There’s no doubt Morton was dominant through his first 18 outs. He totaled 77 pitches while surrendering just two hits through six innings. A four-pitch walk to begin the sixth accounted for the only trouble he had encountered before the seventh.

There wasn’t any reason to remove him, right?

“Not at all,” Snitker said. “I talked to him. He said he felt good. If he'd have thrown 10 or 15 more pitches, I probably wouldn't have [sent him out after the sixth]. But I thought he was in an area where all year long we've let him go back out [to the mound].”

Morton got ahead of Avisaíl García with an 0-2 count before hitting him with a 1-2 fastball that ran up and in on the Brewers’ cleanup hitter. He then got ahead of Tellez before the big first baseman jumped on a 1-2 fastball that got too much of the plate. The decisive two-run homer hit high above the center-field wall.

Tellez’s home run ended the day for Morton, who recorded nine strikeouts and allowed just the two runs on three hits and one walk over six-plus innings. The 37-year-old hurler had worked seven innings in three of his five September starts and he threw at least 85 pitches in each of the final 19 starts he made before dialing it down with a short postseason tune-up against the Mets on Sunday.

“Even in those at-bats, I got them where I wanted them, I just didn’t finish them off,” Morton said.

Two costly pitches were too much for the Braves to overcome. They squandered a prime first-inning scoring opportunity against Corbin Burnes and remained scoreless until Pederson hit a solo homer off Adrian Houser in the eighth.

Consequently, Snitker’s club finds itself needing to quickly turn things around in this best-of-five series. The Braves will send Max Fried to the mound for Game 2 on Saturday. Fried produced an MLB-best 1.74 ERA after the All-Star break. But the offense will still need to provide more assistance than Morton received.

“I think what you saw tonight, it could have gone either way,” Pederson said. “It was a pitchers’ duel. Part of baseball. I think we’re in a really good spot.”

The Braves certainly seemed to be in a good spot when they had runners on the corners with none out in the first. But Burnes showed why he’s an NL Cy Young Award candidate as he escaped that jam and allowed just two hits and three walks over six scoreless innings.

“Postseason baseball is all about momentum,” Burnes said. “I think we've seen that in the Wild Card Games and the couple of Division Series we've seen so far. When one team gets the momentum going, it's tough to stop that and it's tough to kind of turn it around.”

Momentum seemed to be heading to the Braves’ dugout when Burnes threw 16 pitches while issuing consecutive walks to Jorge Soler and Freddie Freeman to begin the game. But Ozzie Albies took a weak swing at a 1-0 cutter that was in off the plate and produced a ground ball that Tellez turned into a double play when he stepped on first and threw to the plate to retire Soler.

“They had first and third, nobody out,” Burnes said. “It could have escalated quickly for them.”

Instead, Snitker spent his postgame media session answering questions about Morton, as well as Soler’s decision to run on Albies’ grounder.

“That's a tough one when you're at third base,” Snitker said. “Double-play ball, you want to go. It's right there. It's a gray-area one, right there. I don't put it on [Soler]. Probably 95 percent of the guys would go on that, because you can't react quick enough and think quick enough on that play right there.”

Likewise, probably 95 percent of managers would have sent Morton out for the seventh. And the first six innings wouldn’t have given them any reason to anticipate what ended up happening.

“It was one pitch, so I’m not going to second-guess sending him back out,” Snitker said. “You’ve got to take your hat off too to the hitter, because he didn’t miss.”