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Morton's calm nature, experience provide boost

@juanctoribio
October 6, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- Everyone has a Charlie Morton story. When the Rays were looking into potentially signing Morton during free agency last offseason, they were in awe of the positive things people around baseball had to say about the veteran right-hander. “You hear all these things in the offseason, when

ST. PETERSBURG -- Everyone has a Charlie Morton story.

When the Rays were looking into potentially signing Morton during free agency last offseason, they were in awe of the positive things people around baseball had to say about the veteran right-hander.

“You hear all these things in the offseason, when we’re somewhat recruiting him,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You hear what this Astros group says about him, everybody in baseball he’s come across. Then you hear so much of it, you start to roll your eyes, like there is no way this guy is who he’s built up to be. And I can tell you, he certainly is.”

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Morton has been outstanding on the mound, making 33 starts and leading Rays starters with a 3.05 ERA and 16 wins during the regular season. His impact on the field has been more than worth the two-year, $30 million deal he signed in December 2018. Meanwhile, his contributions off the field have been invaluable for a young club in Tampa Bay.

“What I’ve learned from him, what we’ve learned from him, and what he’s done with not just young pitchers but young players, is that calmness that he provides,” Cash said. “Whether he’s pitching on the mound or just a routine workday for him, it’s helped.”

With their season on the line, the Rays are going to ask Morton to exude that confidence and hope it extends to the rest of the club in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Astros on Monday at Tropicana Field.

“It’s a huge confidence boost,” Rays infielder Brandon Lowe said. “Charlie has been so good for us all year, and he’s been here before. He’s been in much more difficult situations than that, and I think just having him up there just calm and collected, it will really help us.”

Morton played a key role throughout the regular season, but his ability to perform on the biggest stages in baseball is what ultimately convinced the Rays to give him the largest annual contract to a pitcher in franchise history.

Just how good has Morton been in the postseason? In three appearances in potential elimination games, Morton is 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA. He is just one of 11 pitchers with three wins in potential elimination games, a list that includes Justin Verlander and Hall of Famers John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Catfish Hunter.

“We got our backs to the wall a little bit here,” Morton said. "So for me to get the opportunity to go out and try to get some quality innings, give our team a chance to win, I mean, these games are special when a lot’s on the line.

“Probably some of the more memorable moments in baseball I’ll ever have are games I’ve pitched in the playoffs. This is a great opportunity for us, show what we’re made of, go out there against a big challenge and see what we got.”

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Monday’s challenge will be unique for Morton, as he’ll be facing the club with which he won the 2017 World Series for the third time this year. Morton’s first start with the Rays came against the Astros in late March, and he allowed a season-high six runs in his return to Houston on Aug. 27.

In Morton's two seasons with the Astros, he made 55 regular-season starts and registered a 3.36 ERA. The familiarity between Morton and his former teammates will create for an interesting storyline on Monday afternoon.

“For me, there’s really no mystery with the Astros,” Morton said. “It’s just kind of they are who they are to me. I mean, I know those guys pretty well, on and off the field. I’m well aware of the challenges that they present. And I know what they’re made of.”

While the Rays would prefer to not be staring at an 0-2 deficit, there’s no doubt that Morton is the pitcher they want on the mound with their season on the line. This is what they heard about during the free-agency process, and they already got a taste when he pitched in last Wednesday’s Wild Card Game win over the A’s.

“You’re going to have to overcome challenges in the postseason to get to the World Series and win the World Series," Morton said. "There’s fight in this team. There’s a lot of fight in this team.”

Everyone has a Morton story, and the Rays are hoping to add another chapter on Monday.

“We’ve leaned on him so heavily, and he’s kind of risen to every challenge and every task we’ve asked,” Cash said. “[We] have all the confidence in the world he can go out there and give us an opportunity to quiet a really good offense and let our offense find a way to get going.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.