Come, let us reminisce.
Charlie Morton is one of
two three noted former Pirates set to participate in the 2017 World Series, having helped lead the Astros to a Game 7 victory over the Yankees.
Four years ago (man, it seems much longer), it seemed incredible he was starting a playoff game for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Morton, you probably remember, came to Pittsburgh in the then-unpopular (among people I didn’t like) Nate McLouth trade in 2009. Morton had the stuff — it was electric, they said — but not the results, posting poor overall figures in his early years, punctuated by a 2-12 record and 7.57 ERA in 2010.
Poor Charlie embodied a lot about those Pirates, and how a lot of us felt about them. The process wasn’t impeccable, but the input was much better than the results it got, much like some frustrating teams early in Neal Huntington’s reign as general manager. On top of his underlying promise, Morton was a good guy; we took his struggles hard, personally even, for both reasons.
Morton broke out in 2011, with a 58.5 percent ground-ball rate, a 3.83 ERA and a 3.77 FIP. He never got a lot of strikeouts, at least until he left Pittsburgh, but he always got the grounders.
Ground Chuck would have his flareups, but Morton established himself as a solid starting pitcher for an emerging (and, on two occasions, collapsing) Pirates team. But it was the early Charlie Morton, the struggling, talented nice guy we stood up for through the years, that really formed the emotional connection. It was that guy we were cheering for as he took the mound on an overcast Monday afternoon, October 7, 2013, with the chance to send the Pirates to the National League Championship Series.
It’s easy to forget how well Morton pitched that day. Michael Wacha upstaged him, one-hitting the Pirates in Game 4, a Pedro Alvarez home run the only Pirates hit and most memorable highlight. The Cardinals evened the NLDS at two games apiece, allowing them to go on to win the series in Game 5 back in St. Louis and eventually take the National League pennant.
But Morton was quite solid. After Matt Holliday’s two-out, first-inning single, Morton set down seven Cardinals in a row and 11 of 12, getting into the fifth smoothly, if not as easily as the young Wacha.
Morton got into a jam in the fifth, with a one-out single by David Freese and a walk to light-hitting Pete Kozma. Wacha sacrificed the two over to second and third, then Morton fanned the hard-to-fan Matt Carpenter with a vintage nasty curveball in the dirt.
Morton got back into trouble in the sixth, though, issuing a leadoff walk to Carlos Beltran before Holliday golfed one over the center-field wall for a 2-0 Cardinals lead.
Unfortunately, that was all St. Louis would need. Morton’s final line: 5 2-3 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. His day became a missed opportunity. In two subsequent postseason appearances, the Pirates didn’t get close to the NLCS, falling in the Wild Card Game both times.
Charlie Morton started a playoff game for the Pittsburgh Pirates, though. And that was something that seemed improbable in a couple ways just a few years before.
More footage from memory lane: