When did Braves pitcher Charlie Morton break his leg?
HOUSTON – At a time when old-fashioned aces became scarce, Atlanta lost one of the best playoff players for the rest of the World Series. And in a sequence of events worthy of the battle-proven pitchers of yore, Charlie Morton appeared to record at least one, if not three, with a broken leg.
Morton, the veteran Atlanta right-hander, suffered a fractured right fibula at one point after being struck in the leg by a ball from Yuli Gurriel’s stick in the second inning of Atlanta’s 6-2 win over the Houston Astros in World Series Game 1 on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park .
X-rays taken at the stage confirmed the fracture and Morton was ruled out for the remainder of the series. Atlanta said Morton, 37, would be available for training next spring, but would not be able to help the team win the 2021 World Series.
The big question after Atlanta’s victory was when the rift occurred. Early reports indicated Morton had faced three hitters with the fracture, retiring all three, but the team suggested after the game that the real break came on his last pitch of the evening.
“For us losing him in Game 1 is a dagger,” said Atlanta wide receiver Travis d’Arnaud. “But he will always be there with us, cheer us on and always try to teach us everything he has learned throughout his journey and career.”
After Gurriel’s ball hit Morton, he ran to cover first base with no visible limp and stayed in the game. He then struck out Chas McCormick on strikes, then caused Martín Maldonado to take a line out to end the set.
Between innings, Morton received medical attention and Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said the pitcher had an initial negative x-ray. Morton then threw a ball against a wall in the tunnel leading to the shelter, Snitker said, and proclaimed himself ready to resume play. He said it hurt more to run than to throw.
“That x-ray, when he came out, didn’t show anything,” Snitker said and added: “Well, he got one after getting out of the game and feeling hurt.”
In the third, Morton struck out Jose Altuve at bat, but landed awkwardly after throwing the last pitch of the team, reaching where he had been hit by Gurriel’s liner.
Moments later, Morton limped off the field, ending his 16 season shots after the ball hit him. He was replaced by AJ Minter, who took the relief victory.
“He hit a guy on a broken leg,” Minter said. “It’s quite remarkable.”
Snitker suggested that the fracture may not have developed until Morton returned for the third inning.
“I’m not a doctor and all that, but I don’t know if it was broken when he did that,” the manager said in reference to the withdrawals in the second set. “I mean, it was stressed out, but he felt good.”
Atlanta will be allowed to replace Morton on the World Series roster with another pitcher, but he’s lost one of the mainstays of his pitching staff, and someone with notable success against the Astros.
The normally reliable Morton was 14-6 with a 3.34 regular-season earned-run average for Atlanta, with 33 starts, a major-league high. In 14 major league seasons, including two with the Astros, Morton established himself as a playoff clutch pitcher and did particularly well against his former team.
Heading into Tuesday’s game, Morton was 3-0 in the playoffs against the Astros, with a microscopic 0.57 ERA. Two of those wins came in 2020, as he pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Championship Series.
This year, he started Games 1 and 4 of a Division Series against Milwaukee and Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Tuesday was his 16th start in the playoffs.
Morton has also been a strong influence on his teammates and will most likely continue to provide support and guidance to fellow pitchers for the remainder of the series. Atlanta Game 2 starter Max Fried called Morton a calming influence at a press conference on Tuesday ahead of Game 1.
“Especially when you’re going into really emotional games, especially when it comes to playoff games,” Fried said, “being able to turn to him in these circumstances is really, really helpful.”
Morton pitched for Houston in 2017 and 2018, and won Game 7 of the 2017 World Series with four great innings in relief. He left a strong impression as a formidable teammate.
“The best you can have,” Houston second baseman Altuve said before the series started. “He’s so good. He is incredible. I have nothing but good things to say about him.
Morton’s final pitching line of the 2021 season was two innings and a third in which he allowed a hit and no runs. He’s walked two and three strikeouts, but what will never show in the box score is if he recorded his last three strikeouts on a broken leg.