'Happy flight': Morton, Braves close with win

September 5th, 2021

DENVER -- “This game is always gonna punch you in the gut and kick you in the teeth, and you’ve just gotta keep fighting back.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker had that to say after his club got a much-needed 9-2 victory over the Rockies on Sunday afternoon behind seven sparkling innings from and home runs from Ozzie Albies, Adam Duvall, Travis d’Arnaud and Austin Riley.

Two weeks ago, things were looking great for the Braves, who won nine straight games from Aug. 13-22, all on the road. Atlanta was hot, having won 16 of 19 in August to that point to surge into first place in the NL East. But when the Braves got back home, they dropped three of five to the Yankees and the Giants.

Then the Braves embarked on a seven-game road trip that concluded Sunday in Denver. Entering the series finale against the Rockies, Atlanta had lost five of six on the trip and eight of 11 overall. Still clinging to a two-game division lead over the Phillies, the prospect of losing three of four to Colorado and then jumping on a flight back across the country wasn’t exactly appealing.

Morton made sure that wouldn’t happen. The 37-year-old right-hander was brilliant on a day on which Atlanta’s bullpen needed a breather -- it had pitched 13 1/3 innings in the first three games of the series. He gave up two runs on just two hits, walking two and striking out four on 90 pitches.

Morton became only the second visiting pitcher in the last six seasons to go at least seven innings while yielding two or fewer hits at Coors Field -- the Rangers' Lance Lynn did it on Aug. 14, 2020. It also marked the first time in his last 10 starts that he pitched past the sixth inning.

Morton said afterward that he had memories of a 2015 start at Coors while he was with the Pirates, one that he didn’t want to repeat.

“I threw really well through four or five innings and we had a pretty big lead, and I gave it up,” Morton said. “I just remember not feeling good about that. So I know, especially later in [today’s] game, when we had a bigger lead, I was just trying to pitch to my strengths and not really give in. I know that leads can be given up pretty easily here.”

It was a great sight to see for the Braves, who will need Morton to be at his best if they want to head to the postseason for the fourth straight year -- the last time he had gone seven innings was July 9 in Miami.

Morton had plenty of support from his lineup. Albies greeted Rockies starter Ryan Feltner, making his MLB debut, with a towering homer to right field on the first pitch of the game. Atlanta had a big third inning, with back-to-back homers from Duvall and d’Arnaud highlighting a five-run frame. Riley belted his 15th homer since the All-Star break, a solo shot in the seventh inning.

Duvall continues to be a force in Atlanta’s lineup since returning via trade from the Marlins on July 30. After a slow start at the plate, he’s launched nine homers in his last 29 games for the Braves. With his three-run shot on Sunday, he upped his season RBI total to 94, best in the NL.

“I am so glad -- I’m trying to think for him or for us -- that we got him back,” Snitker said. “I tell you what, he’s a different guy when you’ve got runners on. … I can never be too happy for a guy like that.”

Duvall’s not the only Braves slugger enjoying a hot streak at the plate -- Riley also continues to impress. He’s hitting .305/.377/.539 with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs, prompting whispers of “MVP” around the Braves' clubhouse.

“I don’t know how he hasn’t [put himself into the MVP conversation],” Morton added. “He’s just been so consistent all year, on both sides of the ball.”

Defensively, Riley entered the day with eight defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs, just one behind the leader among third basemen, José Ramírez of the Indians.

Though they were facing a pitcher making his big league debut straight from Double-A, a seven-inning gem from Morton and four homers certainly helped assuage the feeling this grind of a road trip -- which included five one-run games -- had left.

“There’s a lot to that ‘happy flight’ thing,” Snitker said. “That’s a big deal when you get on a plane [after] we split a tough series.”