ARLINGTON, Texas — Charlie Morton wasn’t sharp. He wasn’t able to execute pitches. He wasn’t able to put away hitters.
He wasn’t postseason Charlie Morton.
And now, if his Rays don’t start looking more like themselves, this World Series — and their season — could be over quickly.
The Dodgers took advantage of Morton’s surprisingly disappointing outing to roll to a 6-2 win over the Rays on Friday in Game 3 of the World Series — one that if not for the pandemic-forced neutral site would have been played at Tropicana Field — and took a two-games-to-one lead.
Game 4 in the best-of-seven series is Saturday night, with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw looming in Game 5 on Sunday.
“We need to find a way to win, that’s for sure,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I don’t think any of us are concerned with Kershaw right now. We need to be concerned with (Dodgers Game 4 starter Julio) Urias. He’s pretty talented, too. Go out there and get some good at-bats going early on.
“We seem to be a much better club when we get early leads. That makes a lot of sense, so whatever we can do to get some runs early on.”
They had a similar plan on Friday to grab an early lead, but both starting pitchers conspired against them.
Morton, the Rays' “postseason stud,” in Cash’s words, for giving up five runs in the first four innings. And Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler, who allowed them hardly anything — no hits through the first four innings and just one run on three hits through six, while striking out 10.
Morton’s previous postseason performances thrust him into the conversation as one of the game’s all-time best — 7-0, 1.45 over his last nine outings; 5-0, 0.70 in five since joining the Rays in 2019; 3-0, 0.57 in three this year, allowing one earned run and 11 hits over 15-2/3 innings, including his dominant showing in the decisive ALCS Game 7 last Saturday.
And then Friday, five runs on seven hits over 4-1/3 innings.
Worse, four of the runs scored with two outs in the inning and two strikes on the batter.
Of their 87 runs this postseason, the Dodgers have scored 50 with two outs. The Rays have scored 68 total.
“I wasn’t particularly sharp,” Morton said. “I felt like I was able to get to two strikes pretty quickly with a lot of guys and just not able to put them away. Even some of those pitches where I was getting ahead, actually a lot of them, they just weren’t very well executed. Then there in the fourth and fifth, stuff wasn’t really there, command wasn’t really there. And they’re just too good for that.”
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The Rays, greedily or perhaps unfairly, had come to expect better from the 36-year-old.
“He’s set the bar as high as anybody in the game right now in postseason success off the mound,” Cash said. “So you hate to say shocking, because that’s unfair to Charlie. A couple pitches here or there, he’d like to have back, we’d like to have back, just to keep us in it a little bit longer.”
Morton said he was having all kinds of issues, being too quick in his delivery, failing to establish his fastball to lefties, unable to throw his changeup effectively.
“I never really felt comfortable out there,” he said.
That showed early and often.
In the first, when Justin Turner homered with two outs on a 1-2 pitch.
In the third, when Morton hit Corey Seager with a two-out pitch, then after being ahead 0-2 allowed an RBI double to Turner. Max Muncy then singled on a full-count pitch to make it 3-0.
And in the fifth, when Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson singled to put runners on the corners with one out, Austin Barnes dropped a safety squeeze bunt — the kind the Rays used to do — and Mookie Betts delivered a two-out, full-count single to extend the lead to 5-0.
“His execution in two-strike counts went a little bit sideways on him,” Cash said.
Buehler, meanwhile, left the Rays with what Cash called “no margin for error.”
He set down 12 of the first 13, with a Kevin Kiermaier walk erased by a Mike Zunino double play, and allowed the only run in the fifth when Manuel Margot got the Rays' first hit with a one-out double and Willy Adames their second with another double an out later. Buehler became the first pitcher in Series history to record double-digit strikeouts in six or less innings.
For the night, the Rays managed only four hits — with rookie Randy Arozarena homering in the ninth to tie the all-time mark of eight in a single postseason — and struck out 13 times.
Catcher Mike Zunino said Morton’s outing wasn’t as bad as it may have looked, and that he certainly didn’t deserve all the blame.
Further, the best thing the Rays can do is give Morton a chance for redemption, which would likely come in a Game 7 start.
“He went out there and still threw the ball well,” Zunino said. “You know, it’s baseball. If this is any other time, he keeps us in the game. That’s a really good team over there. They put together great at-bats, had a great game plan. They just took it today. I think the goal is to even this series (Saturday) and look forward to hopefully give Charlie the ball one more time.”