Morton makes early exit from pitching gem

Working on shutout, righty pulled in 7th, only to watch Astros' bullpen falter

October 29th, 2017

HOUSTON -- For a moment, it appeared A.J. Hinch might break protocol in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night. Rather than send pitching coach Brent Strom to the mound to check on Charlie Morton, who had just allowed a one-out double in a one-run game, Hinch walked out of the dugout himself. He did not immediately signal for a reliever. Houston's outfielders hesitated, unsure if they should congregate for a pitching change.

But no argument on the mound ensued. Hinch gave Morton no opportunity to plead his case.

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"There wasn't a chance," Hinch said. "I was taking him out of the game. What I was telling him was that he'd done enough to be done for the night."

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What Morton did was carry a scoreless game into the seventh inning Saturday, arguably outpitching a counterpart throwing a no-hitter. That the Astros lost Game 4 to the Dodgers, 6-2, was hardly the fault of Morton, who allowed just one run in 6 1/3 innings.

"He had everything going tonight," Astros catcher said. "The sharpness on his pitches was as good as I've seen. He had it all working."

After allowing a Chris Taylor single to open the game, Morton set down the next 14 Dodgers batters in a row. Seven of them struck out. Six others could not get the ball out of the infield.

Through five innings, Los Angeles starter Alex Wood may have been throwing a no-hitter, but he had allowed more baserunners and thrown more pitches than Morton's 50. In terms of Game Score, a metric designed to rate the overall contributions of starting pitchers, Morton, not Wood, was performing better.

"Early on versus Morton, we didn't really have great at-bats," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "And really, he had really good stuff. The fastball was playing tonight. The curveball, the slider. He threw a couple of right-on-right changeups to our guys that we really weren't ready for."

The first cracks did not appear until Morton hit a batter and allowed a single in the sixth, escaping that jam thanks in part to third baseman 's fine defensive play. In the bottom of the inning, gave the Astros a 1-0 lead with a homer. Then Morton hung a curveball to , and with the potential tying run in scoring position, Hinch marched out of the dugout -- his intentions not immediately clear.

Perhaps Morton had earned some extra rope given his recent postseason successes, including five shutout innings in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Perhaps there was something he could say to convince his manager.

"Charlie had done his job," Hinch said. "He'd had a little trouble in the sixth, and then obviously was misfiring a little bit in the seventh. In these types of games when it doesn't work out, you obviously look at what could have been."

What-could-have-been mattered little compared to what happened: singled home the Dodgers' first run against Will Harris, sticking Morton with a no-decision.

"Obviously I want to stay in the game and finish my job," Morton said. "I don't like to leave guys on base. But I'm completely confident in [the bullpen]. It's just one of those things that didn't work out."