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Plucky 7s: Morton, McCullers reflect on heroics

Astros pair proved indispensable in biggest moments last postseason
MLB.com @MikeLupica

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Fans of the Houston Astros will remember all of it, and forever. That is the way it works when you've never won the World Series before, and when you finally do win one, your team doesn't just lift its fan base, but lifts a wounded city still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. It was that kind of amazing moment for Houston when the Astros won it all. They were that kind of story, all the way to their parade.

So they will remember Jose Altuve in Houston, their little big man, and Carlos Correa, who proposed to his fiancée on the field at Dodger Stadium when it was finally over -- a movie moment if there ever was one. They will remember Game 5 of the World Series and George Springer's five World Series home runs. And man, they will remember how before they even got to the World Series -- when they were down 3-2 against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series -- how Justin Verlander was as much an ace in Game 6, the ace they had traded for at the end of August, as any starting pitcher has been in circumstances like those.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Fans of the Houston Astros will remember all of it, and forever. That is the way it works when you've never won the World Series before, and when you finally do win one, your team doesn't just lift its fan base, but lifts a wounded city still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. It was that kind of amazing moment for Houston when the Astros won it all. They were that kind of story, all the way to their parade.

So they will remember Jose Altuve in Houston, their little big man, and Carlos Correa, who proposed to his fiancée on the field at Dodger Stadium when it was finally over -- a movie moment if there ever was one. They will remember Game 5 of the World Series and George Springer's five World Series home runs. And man, they will remember how before they even got to the World Series -- when they were down 3-2 against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series -- how Justin Verlander was as much an ace in Game 6, the ace they had traded for at the end of August, as any starting pitcher has been in circumstances like those.

But as great as Verlander was that night, the parade never would have happened without the firm of Morton and McCullers: Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. They are not forgotten postseason heroes for the Houston Astros. They are just the two who turned out to be as indispensable as anybody. We know what the stars did for the Astros. But it was Morton and McCullers who turned out to be stars in the two biggest games of their careers: Game 7 against the Yanks in the ALCS and Game 7 of the World Series against the Dodgers.

Video: ALCS Gm7: Morton fans five over five scoreless frames

Morton started Game 7 against the Yankees, and he pitched five scoreless innings. This is the same Morton, you bet, who came out of the bullpen to pitch the last four innings of Game 7 against the Dodgers, giving up just one run. And you know who started Game 7 of the World Series, before A.J. Hinch decided to go to his bullpen in the third inning that night? McCullers. The same McCullers who had pitched the last four scoreless innings against the Yanks in Game 7 and made them look helpless in the process.

Some pitchers never get near a Game 7. Morton and McCullers got two of them last fall. Morton started one, finished another. McCullers finished one, started another. It might not ever happen this way in baseball again -- certainly not in the same postseason.

Video: ALCS Gm7: McCullers clinches World Series berth

As it was all about to begin again for the Astros on Wednesday morning at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches before their first workout for pitchers and catchers, I asked Morton if he'd had a chance to reflect on pitching the way he had in the two biggest moment of his baseball career.

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"I never thought of it that way, exactly," he said.

Morton smiled.

"But it sure was fun," he said.

Morton had gotten bounced around by the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS. But Hinch gave him the ball in Game 7 and got those five innings, five strikeouts, two hits, one walk. I asked Morton on Wednesday if he knew he had his best stuff from the jump that night in Minute Maid Park.

Morton smiled again.

"Nope," he said. "There have been plenty of times when I thought I had my best stuff and didn't. I actually didn't think I'd pitched all that badly in Game 3. Sometimes it's not about stuff, just execution. You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what you were doing differently."

Morton ended up pitching nine innings in the two Game 7's, giving up four hits, striking out nine, giving up just the one run to the Dodgers, until he was finally out there for the last out of the World Series.

"It's such an emotional thing, the postseason," Morton said. "There's all this drama, and all this buildup, and then, just like that, it's over. And now we're back trying to do it again."

McCullers had been in front of his locker, just a few over from Morton's, a few minutes before, talking about what the experience of last fall had been like for him.

"Sometimes in the playoffs," McCullers said, "you have to do things that are unfamiliar. And have to put the needs of the team first."

Video: WS2017 Gm7: McCullers Jr. gets trio of filthy K's

So the guy who had thrown what looked to be a million breaking balls in a row to beat the Yanks in Game 7 was back to being a starter in Game 7 of the World Series.

In those two Game 7s, Morton and McCullers pitched 15 1/3 innings, struck out 18 batters, gave up a total of eight hits and one run and walked just three.

McCullers talked Wednesday about how important the World Series was for the fans and for the city of Houston; how even if you have a long career as a ballplayer, being a fan is different.

"They're life long," he said.

Those fans in Houston finally got their parade, but they might not have gotten it without McCullers and Morton.

All athletes wonder how they'll perform if they ever get to a Game 7. McCullers and Morton found out. Twice.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.

Houston Astros, Lance McCullers Jr., Charlie Morton