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The peace of mind that comes from Rays pitcher Charlie Morton

Rays-Astros Game 3: Facing elimination, Tampa Bay has “all the confidence in the world we’re going to compete in a Game 4."
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton answers a question during a news conference Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Rays take on the Houston Astros in Game 3 of a baseball American League Division Series on Monday. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton answers a question during a news conference Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Rays take on the Houston Astros in Game 3 of a baseball American League Division Series on Monday. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) [CHRIS O'MEARA | AP]
Published Oct. 7, 2019
Updated Oct. 7, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays couldn’t be in a much worse predicament, trailing the MLB-best Astros two games to none in the best-of-five AL Division Series that resumes, and could end, Monday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

And they couldn’t feel any better about their chances to play again Tuesday since they have veteran All-Star and proven season savior Charlie Morton on the mound.

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

The Rays actually pitched pretty well in the 6-2 and 3-1 losses in Houston; the problem was the Astros’ dynamic duo of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole pitched extraordinarily better.

Anticipating a boost of energy from an expected sellout Tropicana Field crowd of around 35,000 for the matinee start, and a bit more of a fair chance against Houston’s third ace, veteran righty Zack Greinke, the Rays are looking for Morton to keep them in the game and their season alive.

Which is pretty much where they were five days and 2,910 miles ago, when they sent Morton to the mound in Oakland for the win-or-go-home wild-card game. His five solid innings led them to a 5-1 victory.

In doing so, Morton became, one could say, the biggest big-game winner in baseball history, as the only pitcher with victories in three winner-take-all playoff games, having also earned W’s in Game 7 of the 2017 AL Championship Series and Game 7 of the World Series, which we’ll come back to shortly.

“I don’t know how much I relish in that, in those situations. I couldn’t tell you,’’ Morton said Sunday. “I try to take the ball every time I do, whether it’s in the regular season or the postseason, I try to take it, go out and do my job, execute pitches, try to stay as even-keeled as possible.

“But, I mean, there’s just no denying the situation we’re in. We got our backs to the wall a little bit here. So for me to get the opportunity to go out and try to get some quality innings, give our team a chance to win, yeah, these games are special when a lot’s on the line.’’

Which brings us back to Morton’s past experience, as he won those 2017 games for the Astros, suiting up with many of the same players he will be facing Monday, trying to stall their march to another championship while resuscitating his Rays’ title aspirations.

That challenge, Morton said, is twofold.

In part, that “you’re facing guys that you’re close with, you went through a lot with.’’

And the other, “that you know what they’re capable of.’’

All of which can make an interesting matchup more intriguing, with much more intensity than when he returned to Houston in August as the beloved ex-Astro who just happened to be working elsewhere.

“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 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.’’

Spending three days in Houston during the playoffs, Morton said, was a bit “weird” due to his familiarity with the experience.

The Astros have their own feelings and talk openly about their respect and affection for Morton. And that’s deep, even though he spent only 2017-18 with them before the Astros’ bosses allowed him to leave as a free agent.

“We got the impression they weren’t really that interested,’’ Morton said.

The decision led to Morton signing a two-year, $30 million deal with the Rays that he said “was really a no-brainer.’’

“I love Charlie and everything that he’s about,’’ Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Friday in Houston before Game 1. “I routinely text with him to check on him and his family. It’s weird, still weird to see him across the way. It’s still weird to see him in a different uniform, especially in this building at this time of the year.

“But somehow you have to kind of get away from that emotion and go out and try to beat him. We’ll do that in Game 3.’’

Their feelings for Morton include some fun, too.

Reliever Will Harris brought up how much food the lithe Morton eats, noting he piles on food that looks like a mountain.

“It’s like have you ever seen the movie Elf, when he puts everything on the plate? It looks like that,’’ Harris said. “But it’s all really healthy stuff, like vegetables.’’

Hinch suggested that the Rays show a highlight video before Monday’s game, referencing the one the Astros showed before Morton’s August start, which seemed to get the right-hander choked up and off his game, as he allowed a season-high six runs.

The ha-has and the hugs will be on hold Monday, given the stakes and the stage.

“We’ve leaned on him so heavily, and he’s kind of risen to every challenge, every task we ask,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re going to ask another big one of him here come (Monday).’’

And they know they’ll feel pretty good about it.

“Knowing what he brings and the confidence he brings to every guy in this clubhouse when he takes the hill,’’ pitching coach Kyle Snyder said, “we’ll have all the confidence in the world we’re going to compete in a Game 4 in this series.’’

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.


  1. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) pitches at the top of the first inning against Cleveland Indians on Sunday, Sept. 01, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.   [Times]
  2. Imagine what Tropicana Field would be like if fans showed up every day the way they did for Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Astros last October. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  3. Jose Altuve and other Astros stars hear it from fans in Lakeland, who aren't shy about reminding them of the sign-signing scandal. [FRANK FRANKLIN II  |  AP]
  4. Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (25), left, celebrates his solo home run with Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Willy Adames (1) during the fourth inning of a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox Monday, Feb. 24, 2020 in Port Charlotte. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
  5. Fans line up to enter Tropicana Field during Game 3 of the 2019 American League Division Series (ALDS) Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, in St. Petersburg. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times]
  6. Tampa Bay Rays pitchers Trevor Richards, left, and John Curtiss in practice during spring training in Port Charlotte. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  7. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Yonny Chirinos (72) delivers on the mound against the New York Yankees during first inning action at Tropicana Field, September 24, 2019 in St. Petersburg, FL. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
  8. The Phillie Phanatic mascot walks on the third-base dugout while the Phillies play the Pirates in a spring training game at Spectrum Field in Clearwater on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. The Phanatic has a new look amid a legal fight with the long-running mascot's creators, but officials say don't expect the Phanatic's famous attitude to go anywhere. [YONG KIM  |  AP]
  9. Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Anthony Banda during the start of spring training in Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, February 13, 2020.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  10. Yoshi Tsutsugo of the Tampa Bay Rays gets his first career hit of spring training with the Tampa Bay Rays during a game against the New York Yankees at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL on February 23, 2020. [KEVIN SABITUS  |  Tampa Bay Rays]
  11. Tampa Bay Rays Japanese slugger Yoshi Tsutsugo prepares to head to the batting cage during batting practice on the Rays first full-squad workout at the Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Rd, on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 in Port Charlotte.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
  12. Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark, shown here in a 2017 file photo, said getting the players to go along with the Rays' Tampa Bay-Montreal split season plan would “be difficult.’’ [VRAGOVIC, WILL  |  Tampa Bay Times]