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Sports Minute: Morton merely mortal for Rays, question becomes what's next

1 month 5 days 21 hours ago Friday, October 23 2020 Oct 23, 2020 October 23, 2020 9:35 PM October 23, 2020 in Sports - AP - Texas

By SCHUYLER DIXONAP Sports Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Charlie Morton made the slow stroll to the dugout after one of the worst starts of his stellar, and somewhat improbable, four-year postseason run.

Could that walk be his last?

The lanky right-hander allowed seven hits and five runs in 4 1/3 innings of a 6-2 loss to Los Angeles in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night, ending Morton's bid to tie Orlando Hernandez's record eight straight winning postseason decisions. The Dodgers lead the series 2-1.

It was the first time the Dodgers had seen Morton in the postseason since he threw four scoreless innings to finish Houston's 5-1 win in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series in LA.

Morton was coming off a victory over the Astros in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series that extended his major league record to four career victories in winner-take-all games. It was the second of two scoreless outings against Houston in the ALCS.

This one wasn't winner-take-all, and Morton was rather ordinary in an otherwise extraordinary postseason career for an understated, and largely unknown, pitcher who overcame Tommy John elbow surgery and two hip operations to turn a 46-71 record through his first nine big league seasons into a 47-18 mark since.

If he pitches again in this Series, it would likely be a Game 7 with another chance to extend his record in the clutch, although a relief appearance earlier isn't out of the question.

After that, Morton's future is murky. The Rays hold a $15 million option on his contract for next season. If they decline it, Morton has talked about retiring. Morton, who turns 37 next month, lives in Bradenton, Florida, about 40 miles from Tropicana Field.

Just like his World Series clincher with Houston three years ago, two of the first four LA hitters reached. The first difference was one of those hits was a homer, Justin Turner's solo shot. The second difference was the Dodgers kept on hitting.

After Morton hit Corey Seager with a pitch with two outs and the bases empty in the third, Turner doubled and Max Muncy brought both of them home a single.

Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson and Mookie Betts singled in the fourth, with Bellinger scoring on a squeeze bunt from Austin Barnes and Betts plating Pederson.

Morton started the fifth with a strikeout of Turner, but was gone after walking Muncy. The five runs allowed were one more than he had given up in five previous starts over the past two postseasons for the Rays.

His career postseason ERA rose to 3.38 from 2.84 after allowing more than three runs for just the second time in 13 career postseason outings. The only outing that wasn't a start was the Series-winning appearance for the Astros.

After being limited to four starts in 2016 by a torn hamstring, Morton signed a $14 million, two-year deal with Houston, where he transitioned from sinker-baller to power pitcher and emerged as one of the game's best. He made two All-Star teams with the Astros before signing a $30 million, two-year deal with the Rays.

Morton was 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA last year and finished third behind former Houston teammates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

Mostly unknown or not, at least some Dodgers fans at the neutral-site World Series in Texas sure remembered him. One in the upper deck at the home of the Texas Rangers chanted “cheat-er” the entire time Morton pitched.

It didn't matter to them that Morton wasn't among the hitters caught up in the sign-stealing scandal that tarnished the championship the Astros won at Dodger Stadium. It only mattered that he was on the mound for that final out.

Morton was long gone before the final out of possibly his final game.

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