ATLANTA – Instead of enduring what would have been a tough-luck loss, a rejuvenated Charlie Morton felt himself soaking in the energy created by the Braves’ second walk-off win within the past three days.
“I guess it was the energy and the sense that the guys could smell blood in the water right there,” Morton said when asked what he felt as he watched the final inning unfold.
Two nights after Orlando Arcia delivered a walk-off single, the Braves constructed an even more dramatic finish. Morton recorded 11 strikeouts over seven innings, but allowed a solo home run to both Mike Yastrzemski and Darin Ruf. The Giants tallied another run off AJ Minter at the top of the ninth, before the Braves responded with their most exciting inning of the season.
“It’s one thing to win games, but it’s another thing to win games when you’re trailing,” Swanson said. “We’ve been good when we get out early. But coming back has not necessarily been our strong suit.”
The Braves entered this game 2-24 when trailing after six innings and 0-26 when trailing after either the seventh or eighth innings. But they made sure to take advantage of a start that gave further reason to think Morton might be starting to roll, just like he did around this time last year.
“These guys are used to [coming back], ”Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They expect to do it. It’s just the makeup of the club. ”
Now that they are claiming some late-inning wins again, the Braves are starting to look like the defending World Series champs. They have won 17 of their past 20 games and they sit just 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets in the National League East.
Swanson got behind Jake McGee with an 0-2 count before belting a full-count fastball over the center-field wall. Ozuna followed by somehow recording an opposite-field single with his bat essentially vertical. He intensified the tone of the frame when he tagged and raced to second on Matt Olson’s long fly ball to center. William Contreras followed with a game-tying single.
“[Ozuna’s] play was one of the biggest ones because it got him in scoring position, ”Swanson said.
Before Wednesday’s game, the Braves had a baserunning meeting to simply refocus on when it’s best to be aggressive. Ozuna’s aggression proved valuable and Contreras further fueled the rally when he swiped second to account for his second career stolen base. This set the stage for Duvall to score the young backup catcher with his single to center.
“It was pretty ugly for everyone except for [Morton] for the first six innings, ”Swanson said. “But to keep it within striking distance and do what we did, it’s definitely a good feeling.”
Morton is certainly feeling better than he did when he produced a 6.85 ERA through this season’s first five starts. His early struggles may have simply been a product of having to gain comfort and confidence as he distanced himself from the leg fracture he suffered in Game 1 of the World Series.
One troubling product of those early outings was the fact Morton wasn’t missing bats and his patented curveball wasn’t effective. He competed by attempting to effectively mix pitches while patiently waiting to get where he is now, having recorded a double-digit strikeout total in two of his past three outings.
Morton has recorded 32 strikeouts and issued just one walk while totaling 20 innings over his past three starts. The righty has lasted a season-high seven innings in both of his past two outings.
As for the swing-and-miss? Morton entered June having induced more than 10 whiffs in a game just twice. He has tallied a double-digit whiff total in each of his four June starts.
So, as the Braves have rounded into form, so too has Morton.
“I think the guys are in a really good spot, no matter who we are playing,” Morton said. “There’s good momentum right now in the clubhouse.”