World Series 2021 - Braves' Charlie Morton threw 16 pitches on a broken leg -- and then apologized it wasn't more



The 2021 Fall Classic is upon us, as the first “back-to-normal-ish” season — at least, the first 162-game season since the halcyon days of the Bomba Squad — will come to a close within the next few days. At one end, a piece of metal. At the other, two franchises vying for baseball’s ultimate prize.

We’ve talked enough about the Astros this October, I think. It was nice to see the White Sox lose at the hands of Houston, but it would have been nice seeing them lose to anybody. Since then, it’s been a pretty smooth ride to the top for the top-tier Texas team. The Astros, having made their fifth straight ALCS, are American League champions for the third time since 2017.

The Atlanta Braves took some time to find their footing after the conclusion of the Bobby Cox era; the Fredi Gonzalez era only netted them one playoff win in two postseason appearances. The Brian Snitker era is off to a much better start. The organization has a clear identity, one which has delivered four division championships in a row. This year, it’s led to the Braves’ first pennant since they were swept out of the World Series in 1999.

If you’re not affiliated with either of these teams, you’re probably A) hoping for the Astros to get obliterated, B) hoping for the Astros to win so that young Texans everywhere can see a more legitimate championship, or C) just hoping for some good baseball.


World Series 2021 - Braves' Charlie Morton threw 16 pitches on a broken leg -- and then apologized it wasn't more


Inside the training room of the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park during Game 1 of the World Series, friends kept dropping by to apologize to Atlanta Braves pitcher Charlie Morton for his misfortune. His response to them, and to others who reached out and wished him well after a comebacker broke his leg, was the same: "I'm sorry."

The guy who wore a 102-mph shot off his right fibula in the second inning was sorry. The guy who worked through the pain to face three more batters -- and retire all of them -- was sorry. The guy who pushed himself so far that his leg quite literally gave out under the stress of his effort was sorry.

"And if that doesn't tell you everything you need to know about Charlie Morton," Atlanta star Freddie Freeman said, "I'm not sure what does."

Pain, it's important to understand, always has been part of Morton's baseball experience. It's not something he'd ever wish on anyone else -- Morton is legendarily earnest, as his apologies illustrate -- but he's here now, still playing baseball at 37 years old, because of what he learned in the first half of his career, when all he seemed to know was what it felt like for his body to betray him. There were injuries big and little, prime years lost and talent stolen, and eventually Morton started to understand that his job entails coming to terms with a barbaric reality: Throwing a baseball for a living necessitates embracing the hurt.

Still, what Morton did Tuesday night went beyond pain tolerance. The tone he set in Atlanta's 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros was abundantly clear. He wanted to win a championship so badly that he'd pitch until his body no longer let him. He wanted to do it against the team with whom he won a ring in 2017 and for the team to which he returned this year after nearly a decade and a half away.


"He was doing exactly what we hired him to do," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. "Bring credibility. He did it all year. He did it tonight. And I hate it for him. He really is the kind of guy that would break his leg and say he's sorry."

Atlanta signed Morton to a one-year, $15 million deal last November because his wizened arm could still whip 97 mph fastballs and feather 80 mph curveballs, sure. But more than that, it was for the same reason he was so beloved in the Tampa Bay Rays' and Astros' clubhouses before Atlanta's: Having Morton around is an exercise in joy and amusement, in seeing someone who bursts with good vibes except for when he's being self-deprecating.

"He goes eight innings, gives up one run and is like, 'I'm sorry, guys,'" Atlanta catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. "He genuinely, sincerely feels like he shouldn't have given up a run."

"Everyone knows his résumé, and his humility is something you wouldn't expect from someone with that kind of résumé. He's just so genuine all the time, very open with anything he's thinking to anybody. Doesn't matter if you've never played a day in your life or you've got 20 years in the big leagues."

This is the reason so many teammates dropped by the training room Tuesday night. Morton is beloved. He was when he arrived in Atlanta as a 24-year-old after spending seven years in the minors, and he was when Tommy John surgery and hip surgery and shoulder injuries derailed his career, and he is now that's he has finally stayed healthy for a few years in a row -- culminating this season, in which he tied for the National League lead with 33 starts and was characteristically dominant in most.

At first, Morton didn't look particularly wounded by the 96 mph fastball that Yuli Gurriel, the American League batting champion, ricocheted off Morton, bouncing to Freeman for an easy out. Morton acted like it was nothing. He struck out Chas McCormick on four pitches. He threw six more to Martin Maldonado, occasionally grimacing but perhaps no more than in an average Charlie Morton start, during which his faces are regularly amusing.

Between innings, an X-ray machine in the stadium snapped an image of Morton's leg, and the diagnosis was: no break. It hurt, but his shoulder and elbow and hip hurt once upon a time, too, and he pushed himself through those. This was the World Series. Even though Atlanta thinks so much of Morton it already signed him to a $20 million extension for 2022, nobody can predict what's to come. Maybe this was his best chance at a title. Discomfort wasn't going to stop him from returning.

So back he came for the third inning, when he threw six pitches and caught Altuve staring at a curveball for the second time, only after this one he pirouetted away, a grimace creasing his face, and avoided landing on a ginger leg that 30 minutes, 39 seconds earlier had been ambushed by Gurriel's batted ball.

"It's incredible that he even thought of going out there, and I bet you it was so A.J. could have some more time to get ready," d'Arnaud said of A.J. Minter, the reliever who spelled Morton with a season-high 2⅔ innings. "He sacrificed himself."

World Series Notebook: Albies looks up to fellow 2B Altuve



HOUSTON (AP) — Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies actually looks up in a way to Jose Altuve, even though the former American League MVP for the Houston Astros is a couple of inches shorter than him.

The 5-foot-8 Albies said so many people had told him he couldn't do the job because he's small, and he points out what the 5-6 Altuve has accomplished.

“The first time I saw him, we said hi to each other. He’s actually a little smaller than me. I thought, if he can do it, why can’t I do it? He’s a guy I’ve always watched the way he plays. He plays hard," Albies said. "He’s been one of the examples I always watch to do the same, try to do the same or even better."

Albies had the upper hand in Game 1 of the World Series, going 2 for 5 with a pair of infield singles and a stolen base as the Braves won 6-2 on Tuesday night. Altuve was 0 for 5 with three strikeouts.

The 24-year-old Albies was an All-Star for the second time this season, and led the National League with 189 hits in 2019.

Altuve, who is 31, is a seven-time All-Star who led the American League in hits four consecutive seasons (2014-17), leading the majors twice in that span. He was the AL MVP in 2017, when the Astros won the World Series.

FAST START


There were a couple of historic firsts to open the 117th World Series.

Jorge Soler led off the game with a homer, the first time that had ever happened in the top of the first inning of a Game 1 in any World Series.

Atlanta went on to become the first World Series team to score in each of the first three innings of a Game 1, building an early 5-0 lead.

TRIO OF O-FERS


Houston's big three of Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa were a combined 0 for 12 with six strikeouts.

Bregman was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, while Correa went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and a walk.

Houston has now lost five consecutive World Series games at Minute Maid Park. The Astros dropped all four home games two years ago against the Washington Nationals.

EDDIE BIG AGAIN


Eddie Rosario had two more postseason hits for Atlanta, and a tremendous defensive play as well.

When Yuli Gurriel just missed by inches a homer off the high wall in left-center in the eighth, Rosario fielded the ball and made a strong throw to second base to get the sliding runner for the inning-ending out.

Rosario, the MVP in the NL Championship Series, has hit safely in all 11 postseason games for the Braves after going 2 for 5 in Game 1 of the World Series.

He batted fifth against a lefty starter and with Soler returning to the lineup in the leadoff spot. Rosario hit .474 with 11 RBIs from the leadoff spot in the playoffs, less than three months after being traded by Cleveland, which sent the Braves money to take the 30-year-old outfielder.

STARTING GAME 2


Houston Astros right-hander José Urquidy was a rookie when he pitched five scoreless innings to win Game 4 of the World Series against the Washington Nationals two years ago.

“That game I was a little nervous. I mean, in the first inning, I think I was a little nervous,” Urquidy said Tuesday through an interpreter. “But during the second inning, I started to feel more confidence."

In his only postseason start this year, Urquidy allowed six runs (five earned) in only 1 2/3 innings during a 12-3 loss against Boston in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series.

He will start Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday against Braves left-hander Max Fried.

“It means a lot for me for sure. It’s going to be a big game for me, for the team. I know that I have to win,” Urquidy said. "My last outing was for sure bad, I know, but there’s good days and bad days. I’m excited to compete, and I know that a lot of people are watching me for sure.”

Fried is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three starts this postseason.

“Max is the natural to go No. 1 in Game 2,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

STILL PART OF THE CLUB




Ronald Acuña Jr. is getting to experience the World Series with the Atlanta Braves, even though the star right fielder hasn't played since tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament on July 10.

The Braves also brought along young right-hander and former first-round pick Mike Soroka (re-torn right Achilles tendon) and veteran catcher Stephen Vogt (right hip).

“We wanted everybody that had a part of this,” Snitker said. “I’m really glad these guys can be here to experience this with their teammates. Ronald had a big hand in this until he was hurt. I want them to experience it because they are part of this club.”

Acuña hit .283 with 24 homers and 52 RBIs in 82 games before getting hurt. Snitker said it is good that he can at least be with his teammates at the World Series.

“It’s like when you come here and you experience it, you do that, I want to remember that,” Snitker said. "I want to remember that feeling when we get to spring training, how hard it is to get here, how hard you have to work and be consistent every day in order to put yourself in this position.”

SHORT HOPS


The retractable roof at Minute Maid Park was closed for Game 1 but is expected to be open for Game 2 on Wednesday. ... The winner of Game 1 went on to win the championship in 73 of the first 116 World Series (73%), including 15 of the last 18. ... Atlanta hadn't played the Astros in the postseason since the 2005 National League Division Series, eight years before Houston moved to the American League. But the Braves were at Minute Maid Park last October, and swept their NL Division Series against Miami in three games when the playoffs were held in neutral-site bubbles because of the pandemic.

In pictures: The 2021 World Series



The World Series began Tuesday night with the Houston Astros hosting the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the Fall Classic. The Braves won the opening game 6-2.

This is the third World Series in five years for the Astros, who won it all in 2017. But many baseball fans consider that title tainted because of a cheating scandal.

Major League Baseball found the team had illegally created a system that decoded and communicated the opposing teams' pitching signs during their championship season, leading Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane to fire manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.

Veteran Dusty Baker now leads the Astros and is looking for his first World Series title as a manager. Many of the team's 2017 stars remain, including second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Alex Bregman.

This is Atlanta's first World Series appearance since 1999. The Braves got there by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers, last season's World Series winners, in the National League Championship Series. They are managed by Brian Snitker, and their stars include first baseman Freddie Freeman, third baseman Austin Riley and second baseman Ozzie Albies.


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