“That was about as clutch as it’s been all year,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That was really fun to watch.”
What has possibly been the most frustrating stretch of this trying season for the Braves was interrupted by one of the most impressive performances. Morton carried his no-hit bid into the seventh inning and ended up allowing just three hits over 7 2/3 innings. The 37-year-old hurler became the oldest Atlanta pitcher to produce a scoreless performance of this length since a 39-year-old John Smoltz in 2006.
“The Charlie Morton Express was rolling tonight,” Braves reliever Luke Jackson said. “People don’t like to move when that is going on, especially down in the bullpen. When there’s a no-hitter or something special going on, you got to fire it up quick because you ain't changing the mojo down there.”
Jackson quickly got himself ready to record the final out of the eighth, and Will Smith worked a perfect ninth to preserve Morton’s gem -- and maybe alter the bullpen’s mojo. The relief corps' struggles extended during two games in Philadelphia last week, and as Boston rallied to claim comeback wins in Atlanta on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Braves entered this series having lost six of their past seven games. They sat a season-high five games under .500 and were in need of the pick-me up supplied by Morton, who provided a glimpse of why he was given a one-year, $15 million deal in November.
Morton’s effort might provide the Braves the calm they have been seeking. The veteran hurler hit a pair of batters through the first five innings, but was otherwise perfect before Paul Goldschmidt singled to center with one out in the seventh. The veteran hurler hadn’t gone more than seven innings since April 30, 2018, and his last complete game was in 2011.
But Morton was thinking about the possibility of throwing what would have been the Braves’ first no-hitter since Kent Mercker tossed one at Dodger Stadium on April 8, 1994.
“I was aware of it,” Morton said with a laugh. “It’s fun to be in that spot, every now and then.”
This was also a rebound effort for Morton, who had a 4.50 ERA after allowing four runs over just four innings in Miami on Friday. He tinkered with the timing of his delivery and found improved results. He’s been happy with the way he has pitched over the past month, even though he entered Thursday's outing having allowed at least three runs in an inning in seven of his 13 starts.
“Overall, I think I’m trending in the right direction,” Morton said.
Instead of gambling with his bullpen yet again, Snitker sent Morton back out to begin the eighth inning, having already thrown 97 pitches. When two of the first four Cardinals singled, Jackson came in to record a gem-preserving strikeout.
As Morton handed the ball to Snitker, he showed genuine appreciation.
“I said thank you to [Snitker] when he let me go out there for the eighth,” Morton said. “For me, it’s a really big deal when you’re deeper into a game and a manager really wants to hear what you have to say. When I got back to the dugout, he looked me in the eye and asked me if I was still good to go.
“That's a unique position to be in, where your manager actually is giving you the opportunity to discuss a plan and a decision that's really ultimately his. You don't get those opportunities very much anymore at all.”