Charlie Morton threw the overall pitch for the 2017 Houston Astros, most likely essentially the most infamous International Sequence champions in main league historical past. Morton by no means batted in Houston that season, so he by no means were given an indication from a teammate banging on a trash can. However those that did, he is aware of, had been bad hitters even with out the illicit lend a hand, and they’re proving it once more within the American League Championship Sequence.
“For me it just goes without saying: If you assumed that the Astros weren’t going to be a good team, if they weren’t going to put together good at-bats, it’s just ignorant — it was just a wrong mentality to have,” Morton mentioned Friday night time, after his Rays fell to Houston, 7-4, to arrange Recreation 7 on Saturday in San Diego. “I’m not surprised by what they’ve done; I’m not surprised by what they did in the wild card or the division series — because they’re good. They’re really good.”
It used to be simple to fail to remember that with just a cursory have a look at the primary 3 video games of this sequence. The Rays gained all of them, pushing the Astros — who went 29-31 within the temporary common season — to the edge of removal. However each and every sport used to be shut, the Astros constantly hit the ball onerous for outs, and the Rays capitalized on a unexpected bout of throwing woes through Houston 2d baseman Jose Altuve.
Within the ultimate 3 video games, the Astros’ good fortune flipped. On Friday they changed into simply the second one workforce to pressure a Recreation 7 after dropping the primary 3 video games of a best-of-seven sequence. And now it falls to Morton, who gained Recreation 7 of the A.L.C.S. and the International Sequence for Houston in 2017, to stay the Rays from becoming a member of the 2004 Yankees with a doubtful difference.
The ones Yankees, who famously misplaced to the Boston Purple Sox within the A.L.C.S., are the one workforce to ever drop a sequence after main through 3 video games to none. Morton, who grew up rooting for the Yankees in Redding, Conn., will get started for the Rays on Saturday, hoping to influence them to some other winner-take-all victory. They did it a week ago in their division series with the Yankees.
“There has to be the realization that the series is tied, and this is similar to where we just were with the Yankees,” Morton said. “So I think the quicker we can get off of this loss we just had, the quicker the better, and just use it as motivation. The guys over there, they’re not messing around. I think we realize that. We’re going to have to come out tomorrow and fight the whole game.”
Morton, a 13-year veteran, has by far the longest major league tenure of anyone on the Rays. He left Houston after the 2018 season to sign with Tampa Bay for two years and $30 million, giving him the highest annual salary on the team.
It was a typically wise investment by a savvy organization; Morton, 36, is 18-8 for the Rays with a 3.33 earned run average. He has been even better in the last two postseasons, winning all four of his starts with a similar line every time: five innings, three to five hits, zero or one earned run allowed.
“He’s the been-there, done-that guy,” Rays Manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve relied on Charlie quite a bit in his two years with us. Not sure if there will be a game bigger than this one to rely on him, but we’re confident that his poise and his experience will allow us to get off to a good start and see if we can get some runs on the board for him early.”
The Rays could not do that for Blake Snell in Game 6, looking nearly helpless against the sharp curveball of Houston’s Framber Valdez. They led by 1-0 after four innings, but when Snell allowed a walk and a single to start the fifth, Cash removed Snell for Diego Castillo.
Valdez was throwing so well, Cash said, that he figured it would be a low-scoring game. That heightened his urgency to call for Castillo — who had six spotless playoff outings — at the first sign of trouble. Snell, the 2018 A.L. Cy Young Award winner, was dismayed.
“Even with the walk and the ground ball, I still felt very, very, very confident that I was going to get through that lineup,” said Snell, adding that he wished he had pitched longer to give Castillo more time to warm up.
“If he has the time that he needs, he’s going to be lights-out,” Snell said. “So it’s just frustrating. I thought: ‘Give me a chance to get out of that.’ I really feel like with how I was pitching and the way that I was going through that game, I felt like that would have been what was best for us, in my mind. But Cash is usually — he’s always right.”
For most of this postseason, every one of Cash’s moves has indeed seemed to work. Before Game 6, Rays relievers had stranded 21 inherited runners, the most ever by a team to begin a postseason. But the streak ended quickly in the fifth, with a sacrifice bunt by Martin Maldonado off Castillo and a two-run single by George Springer.
Altuve doubled home Springer, and Carlos Correa singled in Altuve. It was 7-1 by the seventh-inning stretch, and while two late homers by Manuel Margot got the Rays closer, they still reached the precipice of ignominy.
The Rays, of course, would rather focus on the opportunity Game 7 presents, not the three-game losing streak that forced it.
“People are in this situation all the time,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino said. “If we got to this point in any other way, I don’t think that would be a talking point. So I think we’re re-focused, we’re ready to go tomorrow. The clubhouse is picking up energy already.”
In Morton, the Rays will have their best option at the start of the game. But the Astros’ starter, Lance McCullers Jr., can also draw encouragement from a Game 7 memory: After Morton started Houston’s clinching shutout of the Yankees in the 2017 A.L.C.S., McCullers relieved him and finished with a four-inning save.
The Astros were an uplifting story then, a team of personable, passionate players seeking the first World Series title for a city battered by Hurricane Harvey. Their sign-stealing scandal tarnished the achievement, but this week’s comeback, at least, has added a new twist in a saga that keeps evolving.
“This team has battled back, big-time,” Manager Dusty Baker said. “You’ve got to love this team — or, some people hate this team. But you’ve at least got to respect this team.”