Seven innings after creating a bases-loaded, nobody-out threat, Charlie Morton completed his finest start of the season and proved he is capable of avoiding those big innings that consistently plagued him this season.
Morton quieted one of the game's top offenses and the Braves began a challenging portion of their schedule with a 3-1 win over the Red Sox on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
"It was a really nice evening against a really good hitting team," Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Marcell Ozuna fueled a two-run third with an RBI double, but he also dislocated the ring and middle fingers on his left hand while diving headfirst into third base during that same inning. Ozuna's injury stood as one of the few lowlights for the Braves, who have won four straight games to even their record (24-24) and remain one game behind the National League East-leading Mets.
Morton retired the final 13 batters he faced and allowed just three hits, while recording nine strikeouts over seven innings. The lone run he surrendered was deemed unearned because of an Ozzie Albies error that allowed the Red Sox to load the bases with none out in the first.
It was a nearly perfect night for Morton, who grew up in the southwestern part of Connecticut. He read a Ted Williams book his grandfather gave him as a child and believes he was at Fenway Park the day Jose Canseco blew out his arm while pitching.
Morton has a .875 winning percentage (7-1) over 12 career starts against the Red Sox, his highest percentage against any opponent. He is 4-0 with a 2.57 ERA over five career starts at Fenway.
So, how could this day have been better?
"My goal was to warm up to Sweet Caroline in the eighth right before he took me out," Morton said. "This is a special place for me and it's a real special place for baseball."
Albies' inability to cleanly field J.D. Martinez's knuckling, sinking liner created a prime scoring opportunity. Morton hit Rafael Devers' foot with an errant slider. After spotting the Red Sox a 1-0 lead, he found fortune when Dansby Swanson turned Christian Vázquez's line drive into an inning-inning double play.
"After that first inning, I was hoping he would go five [innings]," Snitker said. "The first couple innings, he struggled a little bit. But then he got in that rhythm and, man, it was really, really good."
Morton surrendered Danny Santana's leadoff triple in the second. But this night would prove to be different than the many others he'd experienced while posting a 4.60 ERA in his previous nine starts this year. During each of the three previous occasions he had allowed five runs, he had allowed at least four runs in an inning.
"It's probably more rewarding to look up at the scoreboard and know that I gave up a run in those first two innings, because that could have gone bad real quick," Morton said. "I caught a couple breaks there with balls being hit right at guys."
Along with minimizing damage in those first couple innings, Morton also received support from Pablo Sandoval, who tallied three hits while playing his first game back in Boston since ending his unceremonious tenure with the Red Sox. Sandoval singled and scored on Ronald Acuña Jr.'s double in the sixth.
With the early offensive contributions, Morton seemed to gain more comfort with his great curveball, which became more consistent as the game progressed. He has also lessened the use of his two-seamer recently and started toying more with a changeup. Of the four changeups thrown to the Red Sox, two resulted in a called strike and one induced a swing-and-miss.
"That was probably some of the better mixing I've done with my pitches and actually landing the breaking balls," Morton said. "That was really it. I just wasn't falling into as many patterns, especially once we got to the third inning."