Over the last few seasons, Charlie Morton has been the anti-Clayton Kershaw.
The 36-year-old right-hander entered Friday with a 1.45 ERA in nine postseason games, beginning when he blanked the Yankees over five innings in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS while pitching with the Astros. He pitched the final four innings of that year’s World Series, which Houston won over the Dodgers. In five playoff starts since joining the Rays, Morton had allowed just four runs (two earned) over 25 2/3 innings.
So, of course, in a year when narratives are debunked and nothing makes sense, Morton gave up five runs over less than five innings in Game 3, which the Dodgers won, 6–2, to take a 2–1 lead in the World Series.
When Morton is at his best, he’s keeping hitters off-balance with a 95-mph four-seamer and one of the best curveballs in the game—think Adam Wainwright’s Uncle Charlie and Max Scherzer’s fastball. Neither of those pitches were consistent Friday night. Justin Turner hammered an 0-2 fastball that Morton left up over the middle of the plate for a solo home run with two outs in the first inning. In the second, Turner turned on a low-and-inside curve, which Morton didn’t get low and in enough, for a double—his second two-out, two-strike hit—that advanced Corey Seager to third. Max Muncy then scorched a flat cutter for a two-run single.
Four of the Dodgers’ runs off Morton came with two outs, and five of the seven hits he allowed came with two strikes. After catcher Austin Barnes executed a picturesque safety squeeze to bring home the fourth Los Angeles run, Mookie Betts worked the count full after falling behind 0-2 and singled to center field to plate the fifth run—again with two outs.
The night belonged to Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler.
Over six innings, the 26-year-old bullied the Rays with four-seamers and baffled them with knuckle curves. That lethal combo was evident as early as the second batter of the game, when he caught Brandon Lowe looking for the first of his 10 strikeouts.
Behind in the count, 2-0, Buehler dotted a 96.7 mph heater on the low-and-outside corner. Lowe, presumably looking for Buehler to go away again, instead got a belt-high fastball over the inner part of the plate and took it for the second strike. Then came the tight backdoor knuckle curve for strike three.
Buehler held Tampa Bay hitless until the fifth inning, when Miguel Margot doubled with one out. Willy Adames then laced a two-out double for the Rays’ only run until Randy Arozarena launched a consolation homer off Kenley Jansen with Tampa down to its last strike in the ninth. Buehler's final line: 6 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts.
Barnes was in the lineup because of his defense. Buehler credited Barnes for helping him navigate his way through a bases-loaded no-out jam in Game 6 of the NLCS, so manager Dave Roberts penciled the right-handed hitting backstop in the lineup again, even with the righty Morton pitching; Will Smith was the designated hitter.
After his safety squeeze that scored Cody Bellinger, Barnes crushed a 425-foot solo home run with two outs in the sixth inning. In doing so, he became the second player in World Series history to have a run-scoring sacrifice bunt and a homer in the same game; former Yankees infielder Héctor López did it in Game 5 of the 1961 Fall Classic.
Ji-Man Choi continues to dazzle in the field. The husky Rays first baseman did a split to scoop a throw from Adames for the first out of the game, and then twice made leaping grabs on would-be errant throws before tagging the runner in time for the out.
Not to be outdone, Muncy made a nifty play at first as well, shuffling his feet and stretching into foul territory to snag a wide throw from Turner. For his efforts, broadcaster Joe Buck dubbed him “Twinkle Toes Muncy.”
Three Finger Brown. Old Hoss Radbourn. High Pockets Kelly. Twinkle Toes Muncy. Baseball names are great.
Betts stole two bases again Friday, giving him four this World Series after his two in Game 1. He’s the first player to swipe multiple bases in two different World Series games since Omar Vizquel did so in 1997. No player has ever done it three times in the same World Series.