A year ago at this time Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton was just beginning to throw again after having Tommy John surgery on his elbow.
Today, nothing less than a spot in the National League championship series rests on that surgically repaired right arm.
Morton will take to the mound at PNC Park today to face St. Louis in Game 4 of the National League division series, which the Pirates lead 2-1. Win today and the Pirates will take their first full postseason series since 1979.
Not that Morton is putting too much pressure on himself. According to him, every time he steps on the field is important.
“I’m not going to go out there and say a game in mid-June doesn’t mean anything to me or doesn’t mean as much,” he said before Game 3, which the Pirates won 5-3 on Sunday. “A lot rides on every game we play in. Our careers depend on it. We need to be consistent. Besides that, yeah, tomorrow’s game is going to be important regardless.”
Morton probably isn’t the guy that most Pirates fans want on the mound in an elimination game with St. Louis. He is 2-9 with a 6.52 ERA in 14 career starts against the Cardinals, including an 0-6 record in his past eight starts against them.
He lasted just 1 2⁄3 innings the last time he faced them, giving up five runs – all earned – on six hits and two walks before leaving the game with a foot injury.
Morton said he isn’t trying to over-analyze why he has struggled against St. Louis, but instead plans to try to concentrate on what has worked for him against other teams.
“Anybody would like to believe that from failure you take something from it,” Morton said. “And I think that’s true with anybody, whether it’s a season or it’s a span of starts or if it’s one start. So there are things that I’m going to take from it and I’m going to learn from, but I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel because I had a couple of bad games against them.”
He also gave up five earned runs in six innings in the Pirates’ 13-0 loss to St. Louis on Aug. 1. After returning from that rough outing, he was solid down the stretch for the Pirates, going 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA in his final 11 starts.
“We give respect to all these guys and realize at any night any pitcher can stop a good offense,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “But we put together a game plan. We take our successes and failures and learn from them, from each individual pitcher, and try to put a plan together to give us success for the next time.”
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Blackout: The Pirates are again asking for a “blackout” today, and why not?
Pittsburgh is 2-0 at PNC Park and the atmosphere has been fantastic, with most of the 40,000-plus fans dressed in black and twirling towels and Jolly Roger flags.
Count Matheny among those that are impressed by the atmosphere in the city, which has waited 21 years for a return to the postseason.
“I thought the atmosphere was great,” the Cardinals manager said. “We love the excitement and the noise. We anticipated the Pirates fans would be excited and loud, as they should be.”
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Justin time?: After hitting .260 with no home runs in 25 games for the Pirates after being acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Justin Morneau has hit safely in each of the first four playoff games with the team and is batting .308 in the postseason. He went 1-for-4 on Sunday and scored the Pirates’ second run.
He was lifted for a pinch runner after reaching on a fielder’s choice in the eighth inning.
Going back to 2006, when he was in the American League division series with Minnesota, Morneau has hit in six consecutive postseason games, but the 2006 American League MVP still hasn’t been a typical cleanup hitter for the Pirates.
He has only driven in three runs for the team.
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Power outage: When Carlos Beltran homered in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game it marked the first time in 13 games that a St. Louis batter went deep at PNC Park.
Prior to that, no Cardinal had homered in Pittsburgh since Matt Holliday did it on Aug. 27, 2012.
Eric Knopsnyder is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/eric_knopsnyder.