When the subject of big-game pitchers came up in the 2017 MLB postseason, the discussion often turned to the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish, or the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, Jr.
But the largely unsung hero of Houston’s postseason was Charlie Morton, a pitcher who spent much of last year on the disabled list, and whom the Astros plucked off the free agent scrap heap in November of 2016. Morton was the winning pitcher in both Game 7 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees and Game 7 of the World Series versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. In fact, he’s the first pitcher in MLB history to win two postseason Game 7s. So how did such a big-game star get largely ignored?
Morton was coming off a 2016 campaign in which he made just four starts for the Philadelphia Phillies after suffering a torn hamstring early in the season. He logged just 17.1 innings for the whole year.
It wasn’t just 2016’s injury that made many teams wary. Morton had a reputation as an effective ground-ball pitcher, but he also had one for being fragile. Morton also spent time on the DL for Tommy John surgery in 2012, and surgery for a hip injury in 2014. After debuting in 2011 with the Pirates, Morton had only managed to hurl over 150 innings in a season twice.
Morton didn’t just have physical hurdles along the way. After spending six years in the minors, he finally made the Show, only to be sent back down to the minors to work with a mental skills coordinator who worked with soldiers at West Point. Following that, in 2011 he completely revamped his windup, becoming a sinker-slider pitcher
“The lowest point was probably last year,” Morton said, referring to when he tore his hamstring just 17 innings into his season with the Phillies, an injury that required his fourth career surgery. “We were staying in Hammonton, N.J., and I was a 33-year-old pitcher coming off surgery wondering who would want me. I thought maybe I was looking at a minor league free agent deal with somebody.”
If that was the low point, the 2017 postseason had to have been the high. It may have been a long road for Morton, but he’s a footnote to MLB history no longer.