ST. PETERSBURG — Charlie Morton’s delivery was out of whack, he’s lost the feel for his pitches and there were Oakland A’s on all the bases after a single and two straight walks in third inning Monday.
But you weren't going to see Morton sweat.
That veteran perspective, that non-plussed approach, that pessimistic-by-nature even-keeled view afforded him the ability to look around and say, basically, So what.
"It’s early in the game,'' he said. "There’s no score. Honestly, I’m looking at even if I walk a guy, walk a guy with the bases loaded, (it’s worth) getting my better stuff in the mix there and throwing it, get a better feel for it. ...
"That’s really what’s going on through my head. I don’t really feel a ton of pressure. ... Missing, that stuff’s going to happen. Those innings are going to happen. ... You’re really not up against the ropes too much. ...
"I feel like everyone else gets more tense than I am right there.''
Oh, Morton showed that, getting out of that inning and then retiring the next 14 batters to post another outing of seven zeroes.
And the Rays reaped the reward in a 6-2 win.
Morton did Morton things on the mound, extending the majors longest active unbeaten streak to 21. Tommy Pham made a couple of good catches and Kevin Kiermaier made an even better one leaping into the centerfield wall. And Brandon Lowe (yes, him again, Kiermaier and Ji-Man Choi hit two-run homers.
The win improved the Rays record to 41-24 as they reclaimed sole possession of first place in the AL East for the first time since May 18 as the Yankees were rained out.
While Morton put on a masterful performance, the kid starting for Oakland was all right.
Tampa Plant product Tanner Anderson posted five zeroes for the A’s in his first big-league start before the Lowe homer in the sixth cost him two runs. Anderson debuted last year with the Pirates, and this was his first chance to pitch in the majors at home.
“My first dream was to play at this level. It was awesome that it happened last year,'' said Anderson, who went on to Harvard before going pro. "The second dream was to pitch in Tropicana Field. It was awesome. It was a dream come true.”
When the Rays signed Morton to a two-year, $30 million contract that included franchise record $15 million salaries they expected him to pitch well and provide leadership to their otherwise young staff.
Monday’s showing improved his record to 8-0, lowered his ERA to 2.10 and ran his latest scoreless streak to 15 innings. Over those 21 unbeaten starts, going back to August with the Astros, he is 11-0, 2.68.
To this point, they couldn't have asked for, or gotten, anything more.
“He’s been huge, especially with Tyler (Glasnow) going down,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "He can only pitch once every fifth day, but what he’s provided has been really, really impressive.”
Once Morton got on his roll Monday, and the defense was dazzling, it was just a matter if the Rays could score.
Lowe, who launched two to deep centerfield on Sunday in Boston, hit a two-run shot to left in the sixth, his 14th of the season. Kiermaier was next, getting a big cheer from the crowd of 16,091 for his leaping catch and reminding them he’s more than just a pretty glove, blasting a two-run shot to center in the bottom of the seventh. Choi made it three-pack with a two-run homer in the eighth.
"That game, that's kind of how we're built,'' Cash said. "Play really, really good defense, pitch well and get some big hits.''
On this night, it all started with Morton on the mound.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.