Even when he struggles, Charlie Morton rules October

The Rays veteran allowed seven baserunners through the first four innings in Game 2 against the Astros but still won his fourth straight postseason start.
Charlie Morton is now 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA in four starts for the Rays over the past two Octobers.
Charlie Morton is now 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA in four starts for the Rays over the past two Octobers. [ DENIS POROY | Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 13, 2020

Sometimes, the legend can be more entertaining than the reality.

For instance, years from now they will look at the statistics from Game 2 of the American League Championship Series and declare it was another case of Charlie Morton showing up and shutting down an entire lineup of sluggers.

And it’s true, the Rays veteran pitched five shutout innings as Tampa Bay beat the Astros 4-2 to take a two-games-to-none lead in the ALCS. But the journey was a little less dominating than the box score might indicate.

Morton was in constant trouble through the first four innings when the Astros stranded seven runners and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, including hard-hit balls the Rays made great plays on.

“The Astros had some opportunities, and they caught very few breaks,” Morton said. “Lance (McCullers) goes out there and he outpitches me by a mile. I mean, he threw one of the better games you could expect somebody to throw, and I’m sitting here with a win because my team picked me up. My team did a heck of a job today.”

Okay, so Morton, 36, is being a little modest. He did make pitches when necessary. And while his pitch count got up to a season-high 96 in five innings, he was throwing a lot of strikes. It just took a lot of focus and composure to get the job done.

He is now 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA in four starts for the Rays over the past two Octobers. In his postseason career, he is 6-2 with a 3.16 ERA, including a Game 7 victory for the Astros in the 2017 World Series.

“With the lack of fans and having now done it a few times, I think I’m in a place where I don’t get too rattled,” Morton said. "That just comes from having done it for a long time. If you were to stick 24-year-old me into a playoff situation, the answer would be completely different.

“It just comes with time. Just developing from those situations, being given the ball, being given opportunities to go out and succeed, being given opportunities to go out and fail. I just feel like I’ve learned how to deal with my emotions, to deal with the fears and the doubts.”

Morton had an uneven season in 2020 that was interrupted by a shoulder problem midway through. Since coming back in early September, he said his pitches have been getting sharper with each outing. While his regular season ERA of 4.74 was his highest since 2015, he’s 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in his seven starts since returning, including the postseason.

“Every time he’s on the mound in the postseason, and the regular season, too, it’s unbelievable,” shortstop Willy Adames said. “Everybody in the clubhouse knows he’s going to throw at least five quality innings with some unbelievable pitches.”

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.