Standing in the epicenter of a World Series storm with a broken leg, Charlie Morton was forced to make a choice. Give in to the considerable pain and leave of his own accord. Or dig deep and summon an otherworldly toughness. The 37-year-old, fighting the 17th battle of his postseason career, channeled all the grit and guile required from a true starting pitcher and stayed on the mound, retiring three more Houston Astros hitters before departing for the hospital and from this postseason.
A 102-mph line drive fractured his fibula but not his spirit. Morton treasured the baseball and departed with his Braves holding a 5-0 lead in a game that finished 6-2. All he could afterward is tell his teammates that he was sorry. Sorry he couldn't have been out there longer, swallowing the pain and eating innings. Sorry he couldn't live up to unreasonable expectations and soldier on like some sort of comic book protagonist.
Morton getting seven early outs will not be the story of this World Series. The script will meander and characters will take turns at centerstage. His heroic and empirically badass resoluteness will be a footnote in the larger history. But it should be appreciated now, in this moment, for all it's worth.
A perfect example of leadership and the platonic ideal of a selfless teammate willing to sacrifice it all for the greater good. This is the cheesy shit that turns people off yet can still unlock a special room of respect. All postseason I've been marveling at how Morton's brilliance has been hiding in plain sight. The bright lights bring out the best in his rubber right arm and he's quietly amassed an exceedingly brilliant October résumé.
Consider this. Morton has as many postseason wins as Max Scherzer. As Jack Morris. As Bob Gibson. He's not an elite pitcher but has the special knack of hurling the ball when the pressure's greatest. On Tuesday night he replicated one one of Gibson's legendary feats by remaining in a game with a broken leg. The hard-throwing Cardinals hurler took a Roberto Clemente liner off his leg in 1967 and wore it for three more batters. That was in a June game. Morton suffered in silence during the Fall Classic.
Baseball, like all great things, evolves. Sometimes awkwardly and not for the better. The starting pitcher role has been devalued. The warrior mindset is less common. But it is something special when a pitcher is handed the ball and the hopes and dreams of an entire team. The heavy responsibility can suffocate or it can give life. That stitched sphere means everything. The best make managers pry it from cold, dead hands.
Morton bore the burden and the pain. He stood with the same excruciating resolve as the toughest to climb that lonely hill. A freak carom robbed him of the next opportunity but nothing can ever take his warrior moment away.