It’s cliché and overused and lean on the “nobody believed in us” trope when it comes to sports. And yet, after Game 4 of the World Series it’s completely apropos to use that phrase.
No one expected Charlie Morton, a pitcher with a career 4.54 ERA prior to 2017, or Alex Wood, who had thrown just 4 2/3 innings in the last 32 days, to turn in the most impressive pitcher’s duel of the postseason.
Morton and Wood silenced the doubters who said this would be a bullpen game, completely dominating hitters on their way to trading zeroes early in the contest.
Morton took the mound first, and for a brief moment, his critics looked justified. On his second pitch of the night, Morton gave up a single to Chris Taylor. Eight pitches and two outs later, Taylor was thrown out trying to steal second on a curveball in the dirt.
For the next four innings, Morton decided he simply wouldn’t give up any more hits. After his 11-pitch first, Morton retired the middle of the Dodgers order on nine pitches in the second. He “labored” through the third, tossing 14 pitches as Los Angeles went down in order. He then went back to making quick work of the team, throwing eight pitches in a perfect fourth and nine in a perfect fifth.
After retiring 14-straight hitters, Morton’s run ended on a hit-by-pitch. Austin Barnes reached first after taking a pitch off his arm. With one out, Enrique Hernandez would single, putting a man in scoring position for the first time all game. Morton got out of it after a nifty play from third baseman Alex Bregman, who aggressively fielded a ball at third and nailed Barnes at the plate. Corey Seager would line out to end the inning.
With one out in the seventh, Morton’s night ended after he gave up a double to Cody Bellinger. Reliever Will Harris would allow that run to score. Morton’s final line: One run on three hits and seven strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings. He did not walk a batter during the outing.
Despite that excellent performance, Morton had to settle for the no-decision. That’s because Wood matched him nearly the entire way.
In fact, Wood was even better early on. Through the first five innings, the only blemishes on Wood’s pitching line were a walk to Carlos Correa to lead off the second inning, and a walk to Marwin Gonzalez in the third. Other than that, he was unhittable. For five innings, the Dodgers’ No. 4 starter held the dominant Astros offense — the same one that rated as the best in baseball during the regular season — without a hit.
He went a little farther than that, actually. Wood picked up two outs in the sixth before surrendering his first hit of the night, a solo home run to George Springer. Just like that, it was over: The no-hitter, the shutout and Wood’s night. His final line: One run on one hit and three strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.
He was pulled by manager Dave Roberts after allowing the home run, and was in line to lose the game before the Astros bullpen blinked in the seventh. He also was saddled with a no-decision.
Together, Morton and Wood combined for one of the best World Series performances we’ve seen.
This was the 1st World Series game ever played that both starters permitted four or fewer baseunners in the 113-year history of Fall Classic
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 29, 2017
Some of that is diminished by pitchers being pulled earlier than normal in recent years, but you can’t deny both Morton and Wood turned in fantastic starts.
While Wood didn’t get the win, he ended the night with a win. The Dodgers managed to tag the Astros’ bullpen for five runs in the ninth, winning Game 4 by a score of 6-2, and tying the World Series 2-2.
Perhaps the baseball world shouldn’t have been surprised. Anyone who watched either pitcher during the regular season knew it was foolish to judge them based on past results.
In Morton’s case, he was able to make some adjustments that allowed him to gain velocity. Suddenly, the guy averaging 93 mph with his fastball in 2013 was up to 96 mph in 2017. With improved stuff, came confidence. Morton started throwing his fastball higher in the zone, and relying on his killer curveball more. The result: He shaved nearly a run off his career ERA with the Astros in 2017 while posting a strikeout rate nearly 10 percent above his career average. He was a completely different guy.
For Wood, it was more about finding his old form. After an encouraging debut, and a breakout second season, Wood saw his production drop upon being traded to Los Angeles. His stuff backed up and injuries struck.
It took two-and-a-half seasons, but the Dodgers were finally able to unlock the secrets behind Wood’s complicated mechanics. He came back throwing at a much better velocity, and forced his way into a crowded Dodgers rotation. Though injuries struck again, the Dodgers were prepared for it, and allowed Wood to take the time he needed to fully recover. The result: A career-low 2.72 ERA and a season worthy of Cy Young votes if it hadn’t been for some missed time.
And if the moment wasn’t big enough, Wood had a lot more on his mind than the biggest start of his career.
“I believe in fate, and I believe everything happens for a reason,” he said after the game. “And a lot of things, my parents got engaged on this date almost 30 years ago. My best friend’s eight-year anniversary of his accident, getting paralyzed, my fiancée’s birthday today, I always truly believe in God’s timing. And I’m just happy it went the way it did.”
His best friend, Chance Veazey, was in the stands Saturday night as Wood took his no-hitter into the sixth inning.
In a postseason defined by early hooks and managers going to their bullpens at the first sign of trouble — a postseason where Luis Severino, Yu Darvish, Jon Lester and countless others were removed from games before being eligible for the win — it was Charlie Morton and Alex Wood who turned in the best pitcher’s duel of the month.
After seeing other aces fall short in recent weeks, it’s fair to say nobody believed Morton and Wood would shine Saturday night, no matter how overused that phrase may be. And while we’re trafficking in clichés, it’s also played out to write off an oddity in the game by saying “you can’t predict baseball,” but here we are.
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