Morton has to save the Rays’ season once again

by Gary Shelton on October 7, 2019 · 0 comments

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Morton has to beat former teammates to keep the season alive./JEFFREY S. KING

Monday, 3 a.m.

His shoulders are not that broad. His back is not that strong.

And yet, once again, the Rays will ask Charlie Morton to carry them in today's AL Championship game.

Since he arrived as a free agent, Morton has been the essential Ray, the one with the guile, the one with the wisdom, the one with the leadership. He has won more than anyone, struck out more than anyone, been reliant more than anyone. He is 16-6, and when it comes to his large free agent contract, well, no one around the Rays is asking for change.

Today, he has to keep the Rays from turning out the lights. A loss, and the Rays are done. But this year, at least, there is no other pitcher the Rays would like to send to the mound.

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"What we've seen the last two games against Houston, they had it on their side with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "They've kind of been there, done that, both of them. Now we've got a guy that the irony is that he was a part of that group but he's doing it in a Rays uniform now. So that helps.

"I mean, I think our pitching has been tremendous these first two games. I know the game got separated in game 1, but we've done everything from a pitching standpoint to give us a chance to win a ball game. Their pitching has just been that much better and quieted us down. As far as Charlie on the mound, I would say I think it's a similar feeling as to how clubs feel about when Verlander takes the mound or Gerrit Cole takes the mound.

"He's been outstanding on and off the field. We've leaned on him so heavily, and he's kind of risen to every challenge, every task we ask. We're going to ask another big one of him here come tomorrow."

Morton will face Housotn's Zack Greinke, a former Cy Young winner. At 35, Greinke is nowhere near as explosive as Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole, but not many teams have a third starter as efficient.

"It is different," Cash said. "Zack is, he's just as good as them. He just gets there a different way. He doesn't have the power, but what he lacks with the power with the fastball, he certainly can mix pitches with the best of them. Very, very unpredictable. Handles righties, lefties very well. Throws the ball down in the zone.

"You're not going to see him come up very often, whereas Gerrit lives in the top of the zone. I think we'll see much more off-speed pitches to be put in play during the game, because he's going to use all of them."

The Rays had good starts from both Tyler Glasgow and Blake Snell, but both are coming off injuries and ran out of gas quickly. Morton could last longer.

"You're facing guys that you're close with, you went through a lot with. And I guess that you know what they're capable of," Morton said. "So I don't know. I mean, you play teams like the Astros, the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Dodgers. And there's that mystique about them. You know that those teams are really good. For me, there's really no mystery with the Astros. It's just kind of they are who they are to me. I mean, I know those guys pretty well, on and off the field. I'm well aware of the challenges that they present. And I know what they're made of.

"I'm just going to go out there and make pitches and try to make pitches and challenge them."

Morton is counting on the Rays to be relisilent once again.

"There's no denying what we've done this year in situations where we found ourselves behind late in the game or, you know, we went on a streak where we just couldn't win, and we rattled off a bunch of wins.

"There's fight in this team. There's a lot of fight in this team. But tomorrow's going to be a challenge. The next couple days. We win tomorrow, next day's going to be a challenge. Then, you know, you go back into Houston for a game 5 situation. It's just the kind of thing where I don't even want to think about that stuff, to be honest with you.

"We've got to win tomorrow. I've got to go out and get out No. 1 tomorrow. So that's what's on my mind. Batter No. 1, getting out No. 1, getting through the first inning and going from there. But, I mean, you're going to have to overcome challenges in the postseason to get to the World Series and win the World Series."

The game begins at 1:05 p.m.

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