Morton joins a list of legends with stellar gem at Coors Field

August 30th, 2023

DENVER -- bid adieu to what had been MLB’s longest current scoreless streak. But he still extended his recent dominance while helping the Braves claim a 3-1 win over the Rockies on Tuesday night.

Morton surrendered just one run, scattered three hits and struck out eight over six innings. This marked just the fifth time a pitcher aged 39 years or older has allowed one run or less, three hits or less over at least six innings at Coors Field. The others to do so are all Hall of Famers: Randy Johnson (2007), Tom Glavine (2008) and Greg Maddux (2007 and ‘08).

Maddux did this with the Dodgers and Padres. So, Glavine and Morton are the only pitchers who have done this while wearing a Braves uniform. Morton and Johnson are the only pitchers to have done this while also tallying at least eight strikeouts.

“They’re legends,” Morton said. “I’m just the guy who has figured things out over the last six or seven years.”

Speaking of somebody who has figured things out, Marcell Ozuna exited April with his career in jeopardy and he’ll enter September in the midst of his second 30-homer season. His leadoff homer fueled a two-run second inning and his fifth-inning single gave the Braves an insurance run.

Ronald Acuña Jr. enjoyed a multihit performance, but remained a homer shy of becoming the first player to ever hit 30-plus homers and steal 60-plus bases in the same season. But this was a strange offensive night for the Braves, who had scored at least eight runs in each of their five previous games against the Rockies this year.

The Braves tallied 15 hits, including 11 singles. This was the 21st time they’ve scored three runs or fewer with 15-plus hits. The two most recent occasions had been May 1, 2018 (Michael Soroka’s victorious debut vs. Mets) and June 10, 1996, when the Braves were held scoreless before tallying a three-run ninth in an 8-3 loss to the Mets.

As the offense experienced an odd night, Morton strengthened the belief Atlanta’s rejuvenated rotation might also be a strength in the postseason. The Braves posted MLB’s second-worst starting pitching ERA (6.15) from July 14-Aug. 10. Their starters have posted a 2.99 ERA over the 18 games that have followed.

“No facet of your game is insulated from having those blips or whatever that you’ve got to fight through,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Our guys did and right now they've kind of righted the ship and been really good.”

The rotation’s turnaround began with Morton pitching around seven walks over five scoreless innings against the Mets. That outing marked the start of a 19-inning scoreless streak that was snapped when Rockies first baseman Hunter Goodman tripled and scored in the second inning. Goodman’s hit was a long fly ball that Michael Harris II seemed to have before his knee crashed into the center-field wall.

Morton exited with a 0.38 ERA (one earned run in 24 innings) over his past four starts. He produced a 7.32 ERA as he battled an inconsistent delivery and release point over the four starts that preceded this stretch.

“We all know what he can do, especially later in the year,” Ozuna said. “You will see what he can do when we get into the playoffs.”

Morton also missed his opportunity to join John Smoltz (1996) and Spencer Strider (last month) as the only pitchers in Braves history to record a double-digit strikeout total in three straight starts. But he still recorded eight strikeouts and produced 21 swings-and-misses, which is tied for his fifth-highest total of the season.

Instead of shying away from the curveball in the thin Rocky Mountain air, Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz urges his pitchers to lean on the pitch to get a feel for how good it really is. Morton got the Rockies to miss with 12 of 24 swings against the curveball. The seven curveballs put in play had an average exit velocity of 82.7 mph.

In other words, Morton weakened the arguments that curveballs don't work at Coors Field.

“A mediocre one might not,” Snitker said. “But a good one does and Charlie has one of the better ones.”