'Nothing like it': Morton enjoying playoff push

Right-hander K's seven, but late homers off Rodríguez sink Atlanta

September 12th, 2021

ATLANTA -- was a part of a few postseason chases in Pittsburgh, and now he has spent the past four seasons helping both the Astros and Rays make deep pushes into October. This has become a special time of year for the veteran who provides the Braves with hope to make another deep playoff run.

Morton gave the Braves a chance to strengthen their NL East lead. But Richard Rodríguez extended his recent woes when he allowed back-to-back homers in the eighth inning of a 6-4 loss to the Marlins on Saturday night at Truist Park.

Bryan De La Cruz and Jesus Sánchez accounted for the consecutive homers hit against Rodríguez, who has allowed a home run in four of his past eight appearances, including each of his past three. This latest worrisome outing dropped the Braves division lead to 3 1/2 games over the second-place Phillies with 21 games remaining.

“There's nothing like when the when the weather changes, and you're playing really meaningful games in September,” Morton said. “You can feel the excitement in the stadium. You can feel it in the dugout and clubhouse. As a ballplayer, there’s nothing like it.”

A key reason the Braves are again atop the division is the fact that Morton has spent the past few months re-establishing himself as one of the game’s top starters. The 37-year-old veteran limited the Marlins to three runs over seven innings and now has a 2.82 ERA over his past 16 starts dating back to June 17.

“He just keeps amazing me, honestly,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He doesn’t expend a lot of energy with his delivery and his stuff is so good. I saw him in the seventh inning at 97 [mph]. So, yeah, that's really good.”

This latest outing war marred by some early misfortune. Miguel Rojas lined an opposite-field double that skipped past the first base bag fair and Jazz Chisholm followed with a single in the first inning. De La Cruz followed with an RBI single and Lewis Brinson scored Chisholm with a sacrifice fly hit against a 1-2 curveball that didn’t dip below the zone.

But Morton’s only other damaging mistake came courtesy of a misplaced 2-1 fastball that Olympic hero Eddy Alvarez hit over the right-field wall for his first career home run.

“That first inning, I wish I could have that back, especially that sac fly,” Morton said.

As Morton held the Marlins scoreless the rest of the way and completed seven innings for a second straight start, he showed why the Braves were thrilled to lock him up with a one-year, $20 million contract extension earlier this week.

Now Morton has a chance to extend the late-season and postseason success that he had in Houston and Tampa over the past few years. Before helping the Astros win the 2017 World Seres, his experience with postseason chases consisted of helping the Pirates win three straight Wild Card bids from 2013-15.

“He brings instant credibility with everything he's been through,” Snitker added. “He's been on the big stage. He got the last out of a World Series. He's a world champion. He's pitched in all the big moments. I don't think any situation is going to bother him. He’s just been really, really good for a long, long time. I'm glad we got him again next year.”

Morton allowed the Yankees to score seven runs over just 3 2/3 innings when he started Game 3 of the 2017 American League Championship. But five days later, when he allowed two hits over five scoreless innings in Game 7, he began an incredible run of postseason dominance.

The baseball world saw Morton clinch the 2017 World Series by pitching the final four innings in victorious fashion for the Astros. Last year’s conclusion wasn’t as memorable. He threw 10 2/3 scoreless innings against the Astros during the ALCS and then allowed the Dodgers five runs in 4 1/3 innings while making just one World Series start for the Rays in Game 3.

But what is remarkable is that Morton posted a 1.45 ERA in nine postseason appearances (eight starts) between Game 3 of the 2017 ALCS and Game 3 of last year’s World Series. His success combined with his vast experience gives the Braves confidence he can again be a difference maker in October.