Morton (11 K's) masterful as Braves cruise to series win

Right-hander logs seven scoreless frames, backed by red-hot Ozuna's homer, four RBIs

August 24th, 2023

ATLANTA -- exited July looking like a pitcher who could be left out of the postseason rotation. He has spent these past two weeks looking like a Game 1 starter.

Morton notched a second straight double-digit strikeout total and produced a third straight scoreless start while helping the Braves claim a 7-0 win over the Mets in the rubber game on Wednesday night at Truist Park. The 39-year-old's effort enhanced how impressive he has been during what was supposed to be the twilight of his career.

“I wake up some days and my body is sore,” 26-year-old third baseman  said. “I can imagine his. But he obviously takes great care of himself and is in great shape.”

tallied his fourth homer of this three-game series and finished a triple shy of the cycle for a second straight night. He doubled during a four-run sixth that provided plenty of cushion for Morton, who struck out a season-high 11 and surrendered just two hits over seven innings.

“That was really nice tonight,” manager Brian Snitker said. “That fastball usage was really good tonight. He had the extra day, which is always good.”

Morton has completed 18 scoreless innings over his past three starts. Two of his three double-digit strikeout games have occurred during this homestand, including Aug. 16. Coincidentally, he had consecutive double-digit strikeout performances in 2022 on Aug. 16 and 21.

This was one of those nights when Morton seemed to have everything working.

The Mets whiffed with seven of 17 swings against Morton’s curveball, with six of 13 swings against his four-seam fastball, with three of nine swings against his cutter and three of five swings against his changeup.

When Morton baffled the Yankees over six scoreless innings last Wednesday, 12 of the 15 whiffs he induced came via his curveball.

“When there is life there and when there is deception there [with my fastball], I get away with more,” Morton said. “For a starting pitcher, or for the most part all of us, it’s all about getting away with our misses.”

Morton has recorded 26 double-digit strikeouts games at 33 or older. This ties him with Hall of Famer Bob Gibson for 10th on the all-time list. The pitchers in front of them are Randy Johnson (144), Nolan Ryan (87), Roger Clemens (51), Max Scherzer (51), Curt Schilling (47) Steve Carlton (44), Justin Verlander (43), Dazzy Vance (32) and Gaylord Perry (29).

“It’s amazing what he is doing with all the innings he has logged and all the seasons,” Snitker said. “The ball is still coming out of his hand so good. It’s a testament to a guy who had dedicated himself to taking care of himself.”

Morton will turn 40 in November, but he hasn’t recently looked like a guy who needs to retire anytime soon. Some doubt might have crept into his head as he allowed 16 runs and struck out just 17 while completing 19 2/3 innings over four starts from July 19-Aug. 6.

But a few bad starts wasn’t going to be enough to stop this resilient pitcher, who thought his career might have been over after the 2016 season. He was a little more than a month shy of 33 years old and he had posted a 4.54 ERA and produced a 16.0 percent strikeout percentage through this point of his career.

Morton reinvented himself with the Astros in 2017 and ended up completing some of their best postseason innings during that World Series-winning campaign. Going back to the start of that season, he has posted a 3.51 ERA and a 28.0 percent strikeout rate. He’s done all of this since turning 33.

“It’s nice to know you found a little bit of an identity that was sustainable,” Morton said.