PHILADELPHIA — Just like the last time he made a high pitch in the postseason, the biggest blow against the Braves. Charlie Morton came by returner.
And Game 4 starter Charlie Morton, the winningest pitcher in Major League history in postseason elimination games, was knocked down and then out Saturday afternoon after taking a line drive off his pitching arm in the decisive third inning of the season-ending of the Braves. 8-3 loss at Citizens Bank Park.
Thus, the defending World Series champions — 101-game winners during the regular season and NL East champions for the fifth consecutive season — were eliminated.
“Losing stinks,” said Morton, who already did signed with Atlanta for 2023. “Especially when you get a chance to finally taste the victory.”
That was not the way the Braves drew the series. Their starters ranked third of 15 NL teams in innings pitched during the regular season (890 1/3) and fifth in ERA (3.72), but their NLDS quartet combined to surrender 14 runs (12 earned) on 17 hits in 13 2 /3. innings over four games.
Add it up and, even with Wright’s gem in a 3-0 win in Game 2, Atlanta’s starters were 1-3 with a 7.90 ERA in the NLDS. Philadelphia took the lead in the first inning of Game 1, the third inning of Game 3 and the second inning of Game 4, and it never looked back on its way to the NL Championship Series.
One couldn’t help but wonder: Could it be a different series with the Braves’ starters at 100 percent?
“I don’t think that’s fair to Philly. We don’t want to make excuses,” said Wright. “I think they played very well, and they beat us. You never know what those guys are going through too. You can play that game, but you don’t want to take any credit away from them.”
Morton’s start on Saturday landed 354 days later he threw 16 pitches on a broken right fibula in the third inning of Game 1 of last year’s World Series, when he retired all three Astros hitters he faced following a Yuli Gurriel grounder off his shin. On Saturday afternoon against the Phillies, it was a painful case of déjà vu.
Leading off the second inning, Philadelphia third baseman Alec Bohm hit a 71.8 mph line drive that struck Morton’s right arm just inches from the elbow. It changed the course of Morton’s latest effort in a postseason elimination game. Before that moment, his fastball was between 95.5-96.6 mph. After that moment, 11 of his 19 pitches for the rest of the inning were curveballs, and the fastballs ranged between 93.7-95.3 mph.
The Phillies took advantage. Morton stayed in the game to strike out Bryson Stott before Jean Segura hit a curveball for a single and Brandon Marsh, batting ninth, smashed another curveball for a three-run home run and a 3-0 lead.
Morton managed to finish the inning and took the mound to warm up for the third, but he never threw a pitch. After several warm-up pitches, he was met on the mound by Braves manager Brian Snitker and an athletic trainer before making the slow walk to the dugout.
“Once I saw him come out, I knew,” Morton said.
Snitker said: “They x-rayed him. There was nothing in the joint. I think, ‘If it doesn’t go well, then I think we’re in a deeper hole.’ You know what, I watched the warm-up presentations and didn’t like it — I just told him my eye test wasn’t really good there. He would have continued. I just thought we were at a point where we didn’t need to try it.”
Morton admitted after the game that his elbow was starting to strain between innings. But still, he came out of the game reluctantly. Collin McHugh took over, had as much time as he needed to warm up and promptly surrendered an inside-the-park home run to JT Realmuto that extended Philadelphia’s lead to 4-1.
“There’s nobody who wanted to be out there more than Charlie,” McHugh said. “The decision was kind of taken away from him.”
“You have to give Snit a lot of credit there,” Wright said. “I think he cared about Charlie and wanted to protect him, but at the same time, he didn’t want to really risk anything. It helps when you have a good bull price to make that decision, but just like a competitor, man, trust that that’s how it had to end.”
Said first baseman Matt Olson: “I think [Morton] tried not to act like it hurt him, but I think everyone could see that he wasn’t necessarily the same with it. It’s a really unfortunate thing that happened. Charlie cares a lot, and we love to play behind him. We had to pivot and try to win another way.”
Morton retreated to the clubhouse before returning to the dugout for moral support as the Braves tried to claw their way back into the game. The Phillies didn’t let it happen.
“I thought the guys were good. I thought we were in a good place. I thought the team had energy,” Morton said. “But at the same time, I was in a weird place there mentally because I was coming out of the game. I felt like I didn’t do my job, and that’s a hard feeling because that game meant a lot to me and this team means a lot to me.”