ST. PETERSBURG — In talking about being chosen for the American League All-Star team, Charlie Morton has made a point to say he was disappointed that more of his Rays teammates besides Austin Meadows weren’t selected.
There is some symmetry to that, because those Rays teammates, and staff, were incredibly pleased to see Morton get rewarded for his impressive performance.
Morton put that form on display again Tuesday in working a stellar seven innings, leading the Rays by the Orioles 6-3 for their fourth straight win.
Morton improved his record to 9-2 and lowered his ERA to an AL-leading 2.36, allowing only one run and four hits while striking out a season-high 12, including six in a row, one on a curveball that Anthony Santander swung at as it went between his legs.
“Charlie was just outstanding again,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s been so good for us, they all kind of blend into the same.’’
Playing before an announced 20,925 on the second of three nights with about 10,000 special $2 tickets sold, the Rays moved to 50-36 and within 5 ½ games of the first-place Yankees, who come to the Trop Thursday for a weekend series.
Morton got some help, as Brandon Lowe, Avisail Garcia and Tommy Pham knocked in two runs apiece.
Lowe’s performance, which included his Rays high 16th homer and team-leading 48th and 49th RBIs, included a scare, as he left in obvious pain after fouling a ball off his right leg in the sixth. He was sore and on crutches after the game, though relieved x-rays were negative and on day-to-day status based on how he feels.
Garcia had the most clutch hit, a two-run single in the sixth with the O’s were within 2-1. Pham laced a two-run double in the seventh.
Morton, typically, wasn’t totally pleased with his performance.
He was concerned about “big misses” with his fastball including some that ended up high and tight that made him “a little nervous.” He felt the Orioles early on were “hitting the ball really hard, they were just at ‘em.’’ He wasn’t pleased with his overall efficiency, despite throwing a reasonable 101 pitches.
“I got away with some stuff tonight; I would say that,’’ Morton said. “But results wise, you can’t look at that and say it’s a bad start. I was just frustrated by those big misses.’’
The Rays made an uncharacteristically bold move into free agency this past winter, signing Morton to a two-year, $30-million contract that included the largest salaries, at $15 million per, in franchise history.
And to this point, they feel it really couldn’t have gone any better.
“I think that’s fair,’’ Cash said.
Obviously that starts with his pitching, as Morton is among the AL leaders in wins, ERA, wins, strikeouts (132) and a bunch of other categories.
“His stuff is really good,’’ Cash said. “The fastball ranges 93 to 97. The breaking ball is kind of the equalizer, (to) righties or lefties. He’s got the big curveball, slider, slurve, whatever you want to call it. When he’s got that going, it really quiets lineups.’’
But there is so much more that Morton, 35, has brought, which was not unexpected as his reputation as one of the game’s best guys preceded him to Tampa Bay.
Sure, he is willing to discuss strategy and pitching mechanics and just about anything else anyone wants to. But pitching coach Kyle Snyder said the way Morton shares his life experiences has been a huge benefit, especially to an otherwise mostly young staff.
“He’s gone through a lot of different things,’’ Snyder said. “Different types of adversity. He’s overcome a number of different injuries to basically become the best version of himself at the age of 35.
“There’s a lot of guys that look around in here and you can see that. You can draw some inspiration from that. At the end of the day, these guys realize it’s a young man’s game and he’s thriving at an older age. He’s a tremendous worker, a tremendous influence. …
“There’s things that he’s gone through, things he can share with Blake (Snell) during Blake’s rough stretch. I think he’s been a tremendous asset in that regard. When you feel stuck a little bit and the pitching coach isn’t helping you, just to offer up perspective. He’s given respect with what he’s accomplished in his career, and it’s powerful. It really is. And he’s a super guy. He’s one of the best guys I’ve been around in this game, player or coach. He’s just approachable, extremely intelligent and relatable to all the guys on the team.’’
And some of it, Cash said, comes from leading by example.
“I just see the influence that he has on his teammates and the way a lot of the starting pitchers … have kind of gravitated to him,’’ he said. “You see during the game … they’re always communicating. He’s just kind of a model of consistency the way he carries himself.’’
And a model All-Star on the mound.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.