HOUSTON -- Charlie Morton clung to the champagne flute in a display of celebration that was oddly curious, this dainty object in a clubhouse turned madhouse seemingly out of place among a mob of Budweiser bottles.• Dress for the World Series: Get Astros postseason gearGlass objects aren't meant for such
HOUSTON -- Charlie Morton clung to the champagne flute in a display of celebration that was oddly curious, this dainty object in a clubhouse turned madhouse seemingly out of place among a mob of Budweiser bottles.
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Glass objects aren't meant for such delightfully destructive scenes, but Morton, the Astros' pitcher who delivered five scoreless innings when awarded a Game 7 start Saturday night, was once thought not meant for this moment.
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"There was a lot of faith from the organization to bring me in here," Morton said. "It wasn't just, 'Hey, we're signing a guy and hoping he does good.' No, it was, 'We're signing a guy for a lot of money that gets hurt a lot, has a lot of ups and downs.'
"So this glass is kind of meaningful to me, because that happens," Morton said of Houston's 4-0 American League pennant-clinching victory over the Yankees, "and he brings it over to me."
Morton was gesturing to the guy with the orange shorts, Brandon Taubman. The Astros' director of baseball operations made Morton a priority last offseason. On this night, Taubman said, "My priority was to get Charlie a glass."
"It was stolen from [manager] A.J. [Hinch's] office," Taubman said. "I wanted him to have the highest quality of champagne available, which was Dom Perignon from A.J.'s office. He deserves it."
Taubman was instrumental in securing Morton on a two-year, $14 million deal -- risky business involving a pitcher who had not inspired much confidence in his durability. Morton went through four surgeries in a six-year span, and he totaled just 17 1/3 innings for the Phillies in 2016.
But Taubman saw past that and watched Morton go 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA for Houston during the regular season.
"He was the single-most underappreciated free agent on the market last year," Taubman said. "He's got amazing stuff and we saw an opportunity to bring him in, and it's fantastical and fortunate that he's pitching Game 7 in the ALCS. I wish I could have foreseen this, but even I couldn't."
Morton set the tone early Saturday, firing a 96.4-mph fastball past Brett Gardner as Minute Maid Park reached deafening decibel levels. The man whose velocity gains have been well-documented kept at it, finishing off Gardner on three pitches, the last eclipsing 97 mph. It would continue like this, Morton just as efficient as he was effective.
The right-hander needed 10 pitches to get through the opening frame, six in the second, 12 in the third and eight in the fourth, facing just one over the minimum in that span. Morton would run into trouble in the fifth, fighting it off with an assist from his batterymate. Brian McCann's defensive display behind the plate thwarted Greg Bird's best efforts to score from third on Todd Frazier's chopper to third baseman Alex Bregman. McCann's strong hold on Bregman's perfect laser throw kept the Yanks off the scoreboard, while keeping Morton in the game.
The veteran capped the eventful inning with an uneventful grounder off the bat of Chase Headley. It came on Morton's 54th pitch, with Lance McCullers ready to take over in the sixth and finish off the shutout in fine fashion.
Just five days prior, Morton was struck for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings at Yankee Stadium in Game 3. But it was an unlucky outing of sorts, the Astros argued, and the tables were bound to turn. They did.
"He's a hard guy to get a read on," Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow said, "because he doesn't really have a personality where you can get a feel for what he's thinking. But when A.J. asked my opinion, I thought he would do a good job in today's game, because he doesn't seem to get rattled and his stuff is as good as it's ever been in his career."
"That was amazing," Taubman said. "I believed in him, and so does everybody else upstairs -- 97 [mph] with sink, 81 curveball, changeup, throws strikes. You can't ask for anything more. The guy's an ace. He just happens to be pitching third in the rotation for us."
Morton's curveball baffled the Yankees. He threw it nearly half the time, totaling 24 of them and using it to record five of his 15 outs. The average spin rate on it was 2,917 rpm, according to Statcast™, which is the highest average spin rate recorded on any pitcher's curveball in a postseason game dating back to 2015.
"Everything's on the line, and you can either ease your way into it, try to feel out the situation, or you can just go after guys. And I felt like my four-seam was working tonight and my curve was working tonight," Morton said. "Usually I'm a sinker guy, but tonight, my four-seam, I let a couple rip, and everything worked out."
It brought Morton's 2017 innings total to 165 1/3 -- his most since '11.
"They stole him this offseason," McCann said. "We're so thankful that he's here. The front office did an amazing job getting him here."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com.