Morton makes MLB history with 3rd clutch win

Veteran starter prepares to face former club in ALDS Game 3

October 4th, 2019

OAKLAND -- has had chances to show the Houston Astros what they taught him. But those occasions were mere dress rehearsals compared to Morton's next appearance against the American League powerhouse.

Morton remade himself as a pitcher during his 2017-18 tenure with the Astros, whom he'll face in Game 3 of the AL Division Series on Monday. The pupil demonstrated how he has mastered his art Wednesday night against the Oakland A's, lasting five laborious yet effective innings to help the Tampa Bay Rays secure a 5-1 victory in the AL Wild Card Game.

This was Morton's third victory in a winner-take-all postseason contest -- a first in MLB history, as he also won Game 7 of both the AL Championship Series and World Series in 2017.

Morton performed under duress Wednesday night, enduring a 32-pitch first inning. However, he permitted just one unearned run and five hits in five innings.

“When the first inning ended, I kind of said to myself, ‘We were fortunate to have Charlie Morton on the mound,’” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We get the 1-0 lead. A young pitcher in that situation, that environment, you just wonder how he's going to be able to handle that.

“But Charlie, been there, done that. His veteran experience, I think, allowed that. And I would still say, I don't think Charlie was at his best today, but he certainly made his best pitches when they counted the most.”

Next up for Morton will be the Astros, with whom he compiled a 29-10 record with a 3.36 ERA before departing for the Rays via free agency. Houston got the best out of Morton by convincing him that his curveball was effective enough to use regularly and that his fastball could be a devastating pitch.

In fact, Morton relied on his fastball to win his two most significant confrontations against Oakland’s formidable Matt Olson. He fanned Olson on a 97.8-mph heater with two on and one out in the first inning, then employed a 95-mph fastball to coax an inning-ending double play from the cleanup batter in the fifth.

Facing the Astros in the ALDS will represent another challenge for Morton, though opposing them twice in the regular season should diminish the novelty of the situation.

"I experienced a lot with those guys over there," Morton said amid the happy mayhem of the Rays' clubhouse. "I really don't know what to expect, but I know how to prepare. I think I'll be probably pretty amped up. When we face them, we're going to have to execute on the pitching side and we'll have to play great defense."

In other words, the Rays will have to be at their best to compete with the Astros. Morton, 35, will be ready.

“I really feed off the energy of this situation,” he said. “I think that helped us tonight. It helped us to come in here and be in a high-pressure situation. The stadium was pretty rowdy, but I think that helped us focus. I think we're a team the feeds off those type of energies. The culture of this clubhouse is that we're very tight-knit. The guys really seem to care about each other. It's a special group.

“Tonight we came in here and faced a really good Oakland team. Most of the players here have never experienced the postseason before. But we still did our job. But right now we're really a good team. We're a dangerous team.”