HOUSTON – 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 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 during the first game of the 117th World Series, 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 why 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’s 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.
Braves starter Charlie Morton takes a comebacker to his right leg in the second inning and is forced from the game an inning later.
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, where 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.
“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,” said d’Arnaud of A.J. Minter, the reliever who spelled Morton with a season-high 2 2/3 innings. “He sacrificed himself.”
There is something about this Braves team and how it responds to injuries. In the middle of the year, it lost Ronald Acuña Jr., one of the best players in baseball, to a torn ACL – and got better. Tuesday, relievers needed to get the final 20 outs against a devastating Astros lineup. It worked in Game 1. With Morton out for the rest of the World Series (a second X-ray, after the third inning, revealed the fibula fracture), the prospect of multiple bullpen games going forward makes the path even more difficult.
That’s why Morton was sorry. Not for anything he did actively, of course, but because Gurriel’s bat happened to hit his pitch at a negative-6-degree angle and the cut of the grass and swing of his leg conspired such that the latter ended up in a boot. He was sorry that he went only 2 1/3 innings, because he expected more than that.
There was no bloody sock to memorialize Game 1, nothing tangible beyond Morton becoming quite literally a Sorry Charlie. In the end, there’s just the hope that the guy who kept pitching until his leg broke will have a gold-and-diamond ring to show for it.
MLB Players Association to make counteroffer to league in Monday meeting
The Major League Baseball Players Association plans to make an in-person labor proposal to the league on Monday, sources told ESPN, countering MLB’s offer last week that did little to loosen the gridlock that has gripped the sport after the league locked out the players Dec. 2.
Should the players’ offer do little to advance the negotiations that thus far haven’t yielded any substantive progress, the scheduled start to spring training in mid-February will grow that much unlikelier. And the longer discussions on a new collective-bargaining agreement last, the more they jeopardize Opening Day on March 31.
The gap between the players and league remains significant, with the union seeking major financial gains in a number of areas and owners trying to hold firm with what they currently pay in salaries. Other issues players have said remain a priority include anti-tanking measures and fixing service-time manipulation.
Any concessions players make in their offer could provide a roadmap to the negotiations. Before implementing the lockout, the league asked the union to drop three areas of discussion: earlier free agency for players, salary arbitration after two years instead of three and changes to the revenue-sharing plan. The union did not agree to the condition when presented with it Dec. 1, and the league left the bargaining table, locking out the players hours later.
Forty-three days later, the league returned to the union with an offer that included paying players with two to three years of service based on a formula, slight modifications to the draft lottery it previously had proposed and a mechanism that would reward teams with draft picks when top prospects who started on opening day rosters win awards.
The proposal did little to entice players, who after losing financial ground during the previous labor agreement want to make gains this time around.
News of the MLBPA’s expected counterproposal was first reported by The Associated Press
Robot umpires at home plate moving up to Triple-A for 2022, one step away from major league baseball
NEW YORK — Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.
MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball-Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.
The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. The system also was used in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects in 2019, drawing complaints of its calls on breaking balls.
There were no minor leagues in 2020 because of the pandemic, and robot umps were used last season in eight of nine ballparks at the Low-A Southeast League.
The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to use the system at the major league level.
“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.
MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, will remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.
Tampa Bay Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays‘ proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.
“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.
The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.
Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.
The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.
Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.
Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.
St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.
“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”
Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.
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