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Charlie Morton's Mystique Grows With Gutty Game 1 Performance

Charlie Morton suffered a season-ending broken fibula in Atlanta's World Series opener Tuesday, but he made his mark and expanded an already impressive legacy.

HOUSTON — Atlanta won its first World Series game since 1996 on Tuesday, but afterward all the victors wanted to talk about was what they had lost.

Charlie Morton, who started Game 1, took a line drive off his right leg in the second inning. He retired three more batters before the pain became intolerable. X-rays revealed that he had broken his fibula. The exact timeline of the fracture itself is unclear. The team said that an X-ray after the second inning came back negative, so trainers let him take the mound again in the third. After he struck out José Altuve, Morton motioned toward the dugout. A second X-ray, the team said, showed a break. He was transported to a local imaging center for further tests, but he has already been ruled out for the rest of the World Series.

“God bless him, I hate it for him,” said manager Brian Snitker after his team had beaten the Astros 6–2. “Really hate it for him.”

Snitker and pitching coach Rick Kranitz pushed back on the notion, which has already taken hold, that the comebacker snapped Morton’s leg immediately and he threw 16 pitches on a broken leg.

“I think it was the force of the ground that did it,” said Kranitz. “I think [the wound] was already there, and then once you dig your foot in … ”

Maybe. Or maybe the initial X-ray missed a minor fracture, and throwing a ball 96 mph made it less minor. It doesn’t really matter. The legend of Charlie Morton, already impressive, just gained a new entry.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton in the second inning against the Houston Astros in game one of the 2021 World Series at Minute Maid Park.

Braves starter Charlie Morton looks on between pitches against the Houston Astros in the second inning of Game 1.

He was already the man who posted a league-worst 7.57 ERA in 2010, then turned himself into a two-time All-Star. He was already the man who started the clinching games in the 2017 ALDS and ALCS, then came in in relief on three days’ rest to close out Game 7 of the World Series. Now he is not so much a man as a myth. 

“I mean, he struck out a guy on a broken leg,” said A.J. Minter, who relieved him. “It's pretty remarkable.”

Catcher Travis d’Arnaud went further. “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,” he said. “He sacrificed himself.”

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It was d’Arnaud who first alerted coaches that something was wrong. With Atlanta up 3–0 in the second, Morton pumped a 96-mph sinker inside to Yuli Gurriel, who lined it straight back to the mound. It ricocheted off Morton’s shin; first baseman Freddie Freeman corralled it for the 1–3 putout. Snitker checked on him, and the pitcher assured his manager he was fine. Still, Kranitz called down to the bullpen and told Minter to start getting himself mentally ready to pitch. Meanwhile, Morton struck out Chas McCormick on four pitches and got Martín Maldonado to line out to first base.

After the inning, the stoic Morton acknowledged to d’Arnaud that the line drive had stung.

“Go check on him,” d’Arnaud told Kranitz. “I’ve never heard him say, ‘That one got me good’ before.”

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Trainers dragged Morton to the X-ray machine and taped him up when scans found no break. He strode back out to the mound for the top of the third to face Altuve, the ninth-hardest man in the sport to strike out. Morton started him off with a cutter on the outer edge of the plate. Altuve took it for strike one. The next pitch was a 95-mph two-seamer for ball one. Altuve fouled off a changeup and took a 96-mph two-seamer for ball two. He fouled off a 96-mph four-seamer. Finally Morton bent a curveball through the bottom of the zone. It froze Altuve. It crumpled Morton.

He hobbled into the dugout and back to the training room, which quickly took on a funereal atmosphere as people filed through to pay their respects.

“You could tell he was devastated, but he wasn't going to show it,” said Minter.

They will have to hide their devastation, too. They still have three more games to win. Ace Max Fried will take the ball in Game 2. Minter, who threw a career-high 43 pitches on Tuesday, will probably be unavailable, but everyone else will be prepared to contribute. Ian Anderson will start Game 3. Drew Smyly may get Game 4. The relievers will have to cover a lot more innings than they planned.

“Every single person in that bullpen has a huge heart, has huge fight,” said d’Arnaud. “I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but they've all got big nuts, too.”

They have one fewer starting pitcher than they had on Monday. But they also have one more win.

 More MLB Coverage:
Four Hired Horsemen Leading Atlanta's Championship Charge
• Dusty Baker's Time Is Now
• 'Hell No. We're Doing It Tonight': How Atlanta's Season Shifted
• Tyler Matzek's Improbable Journey to Immortality in Atlanta

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