For Rays' Charlie Morton, Game 7s have been his specialty

The former Astros pitcher won Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and World Series in 2017.
Rays pitcher Charlie Morton delivers a pitch during the first inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship  Series in San Diego.
Rays pitcher Charlie Morton delivers a pitch during the first inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series in San Diego. [ DENIS POROY | Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 17, 2020|Updated Oct. 17, 2020

It’s down to one game — Game 7 — and that has been Charlie Morton’s specialty.

The Rays are on the precipice of becoming only the second major-league team to blow a three-game playoff series lead and lose the series. Tonight they get either a trip to the World Series or baseball infamy in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros. That’s pressure.

Their starting pitcher is Morton, cool, calm, collected and experienced.

“As much as anybody on our roster, he’s our been-there, done-that guy,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve relied on Charlie a lot in his two years here. I’m not sure there’s a bigger game to rely on (Morton). But just his confidence, his poise, his experiences will allow us to get off to a good start. Let’s see if we can get some runs on the board.”

Following Friday night’s 7-4 defeat against the Astros in Game 6 at San Diego’s Petco Park, the details were quickly dissected, then forgotten.

Only one game matters now.

It’s up to Morton, 36, who signed a two-year, $30 million contract before the 2019 season, a statement that indicated the Rays were serious about pursuing a championship. Here’s his biggest opportunity to help them win one.

Morton, a former Astro, won Game 7 of the ALCS and the World Series in 2017 for Houston. He became the first pitcher in major-league history to win a pair of Game 7s in one postseason.

“I’ve done it before, and that gives you the realization you know you can do it,” Morton said. “But that doesn’t change where those guys (Astros) are over there with the momentum and the fact that they just haven’t given up. Even in their losses, they have been swinging the bats.”

Morton is scheduled to be opposed tonight by right-hander Lance McCullers, a former Astros teammate and a standout at Jesuit High, in a rematch of ALCS Game 2.

The Rays won that game 4-2, but McCullers was brilliant that afternoon. He went seven innings, striking out 11 and walking none. He had retired 14 straight — nine by strikeout — when Rays catcher Mike Zunino provided seventh-inning insurance with a solo homer.

Morton got the victory by pitching five scoreless innings.

“I don’t think it’s weird. I think it’s kind of neat,” Morton said of the matchup. "We’re friends. To have an opportunity to pitch in this situation, it’s pretty neat.''

Morton had a strange regular season (1-1, 4.74 ERA), but he was limited to nine starts because of right shoulder inflammation that put him on the injured list from Aug. 10-Sept. 1.

Before the postseason began, Morton said, “Now I’ve got to get it done.”

He has. Because of the way the schedule has fallen, he has made only two postseason starts, including one in the Division Series against the Yankees, but he’s 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA.

“I think his resume speaks for itself,” Zunino said. "He has been in this situation numerous times before, and he always answers the bell for us.

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“If you were to draw it up, I think we’d want him to have the ball (in a Game 7). He’s experienced. He knows what he’s doing. He knows these guys. Hopefully, we can go out and execute the game plan (today).”

Morton and McCullers have a special link to another Game 7. McCullers started Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, and Morton finished it.

“I’ve pitched in multiple playoff games, multiple do-or-die games,” Morton said. "Other than that, you’ve got to execute pitches. Lance has pitched in Game 7 situations, too.

“It’s really going to be about the game plan and executing (it), guys coming out and swinging the bats, putting together good at-bats.”

Morton grew up in Connecticut as a fan of the Yankees. The 2004 Yankees are the only team to blow a 3-0 playoff series lead and lose, in the ALCS to the Red Sox. That was three seasons into Morton’s professional career, before he had made the big leagues.

“I can’t really incorporate baseball history and my (past) fandom into what I’m trying to do,” Morton said. “I’m trying to put my team in the best position to win.”