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Former Astro, Rays righty Charlie Morton masterful in Game 7 victory …

Charlie Morton

Former Astro, Rays righty Charlie Morton masterful in Game 7 victory …

Charlie Morton pitched 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball to help Tampa Bay capture the American League pennant.

Former Astro, Rays righty Charlie Morton masterful in Game 7 victory over former team – HoustonChronicle.com

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Oct. 17, 2020

Updated: Oct. 18, 2020 1:39 a.m.

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Former Astro, Rays righty Charlie Morton masterful in…

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1of84Rays righthander Charlie Morton, pitching to Jose Altuve, allowed two hits and struck out six in 52/3 innings Saturday.Photo: Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer2of84Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, Jr., stands outside the dugout for a television interview before Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer3of84Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, far left, standing with Josh Miller, waves a baseball at Tampa Bay Rays Charlie Morton as the Rays starter walks to the bullpen before Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer4of84Tampa Bay Rays Charlie Morton pitches to Houston Astros Jose Altuve during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer5of84Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., left, warms up in the outfield as Tampa Bay Rays starter Charlie Morton (50) walks to the bullpen before Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer6of84Houston Astros Carlos Correa (1) turns back to the dugout away from Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino after striking out during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer7of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. reacts after hitting lead off batter Tampa Bay Rays Manuel Margot with pitch during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer8of84Tampa Bay Rays Charlie Morton throws a pitch to Houston Astros George Springer during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer9of84The Reichling family, Eric, Jamie with sons Hudson, 6, and Asher, 3, stand near the entrance to Petco Park, looking to see if there was some way to see the game from a vantage point or hang out with other Astros fans before the start of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park, Saturday, October 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer10of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer11of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. (43) wipes his brow as he walks off the field at the end of the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer12of84Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena leaps in the air toward Willy Adames as he celebrates his 2-run home run hit off Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer13of84Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena rounds the bases after hitting a 2-run home run off Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer14of84Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi stretches to make the play on Houston Astros Alex Bregman (2) at first during the second inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer15of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. (43) reaches out to catch a ball after giving up a 2-run home run to Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer16of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. (43) wipes his brow after giving up a 2-run home run to Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer17of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. (43) and catcher Martin Maldonado (15) walk off the field after getting out of the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer18of84Houston Astros Kyle Tucker (30) turns to watch Tampa Bay Rays Mike Zunino’s home run ball clear the fence during the second inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer19of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. (43) and catcher Martin Maldonado (15) walk off the field after getting out of the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer20of84Tampa Bay Rays Mike Zunino (10) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run off Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. (43) during the second inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer21of84Houston Astros Carlos Correa, left, and Astros catcher Martin Maldonado (15) walk off the mound after talking to starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. (43) after McCullers gave up a solo home run to Tampa Bay Rays Mike Zunino during the second inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer22of84Houston Astros Martin Maldonado (15) talks to starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. (43) after McCullers gave up a solo home run to Tampa Bay Rays Mike Zunino during the second inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer23of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. (43) reaches out to catch a ball after giving up a 2-run home run to Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer24of84Tampa Bay Rays Mike Zunino rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run off Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer25of84Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena rounds the bases after hitting a 2-run home run off Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer26of84A grounder by Tampa Bay Rays Austin Meadows bounces off the glove of Houston Astros Jose Altuve (27) as Randy Arozarena (56) runs to second during the third inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. Altuve recovered to throw Arozarena out at second on the play.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer27of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the second inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer28of84Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena is called out at second as Houston Astros Carlos Correa (1) makes the play on a throw by Jose Altuve during the third inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. Altuve recovered to throw Arozarena out at second on the play.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer29of84Houston Astros Martin Maldonado (15) walks away from the plate after striking out during the third inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer30of84Houston Astros Jose Altuve (27) makes a play on a grounder by Tampa Bay Rays Joey Wendle during the second inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. Altuve bounced the ball to first baseman Yuli Gurriel, but Gurriel scooped the ball for the out.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer31of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. (43) reaches out to catcher Martin Maldonado as he leaves the field following the third inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer32of84Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena lies on the field after he was called out on a close play at second on a throw by Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve during the third inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer33of84Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., walks off the mound after being lifted from the game by manager Dusty Baker, Jr., during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer34of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. (43) stands on the mound just before being lifted from the game against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fourth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer35of84Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. (43) pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fourth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer36of84Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, Jr., (12) talks to starter Lance McCullers Jr. (43) just before taking him from the game against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fourth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer37of84Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., walks off the mound after being lifted from the game by manager Dusty Baker, Jr., (12) during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer38of84Tampa Bay Rays Ji-Man Choi lies on the field after making a stretch to complete the out on a grounder by Houston Astros Alex Bregman (2) during the fifth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer39of84Houston Astros Jose Altuve reacts after striking out during the fourth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer40of84Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, Jr., walks off the field after taking starter Lance McCullers Jr. from the game against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fourth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer41of84Houston Astros Kyle Tucker (30) walks away fro the plate after he was struck out by Tampa Bay Rays Charlie Morton during the fifth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer42of84Houston Astros Jose Altuve (27) flips the ball to second to get Tampa Bay Rays Manuel Margot (13) out on a grounder by Brandon Lowe during the fifth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer43of84Houston Astros Carlos Correa (1) makes the throw to first after forcing out Tampa Bay Rays Manuel Margot (13) at second on a grounder by Brandon Lowe during the fifth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. Lowe was safe at first on the fielder’s choice.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer44of84Houston Astros reliever Jose Urquidy pitches to Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena (56) during the fifth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. Arozarena struck out for the second out of the inning.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer45of84Houston Astros reliever Jose Urquidy pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer46of84Tampa Bay Rays Ji-Man Choi can’t come up with a ball on an infield single by Houston Astros Jose Altuve (27) during the sixth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer47of84Tampa Bay Rays Charlie Morton walks off the mound after he was lifted from the game after a single by Houston Astros Jose Altuve during the sixth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer48of84Houston Astros Yuli Gurriel reacts after hitting into an inning-ending double play against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer49of84Tampa Bay Rays reliever Nick Anderson pitches to Houston Astros Michael Brantley during the sixth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer50of84Houston Astros reliever Blake Taylor pitches against Tampa Bay Rays Manuel Margot during the seventh inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer51of84Houston Astros Alex Bregman walks away from the plate after he was struck out by Tampa Bay Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks to end the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer52of84Tampa Bay Rays Charlie Morton looks back at Houston Astros Jose Altuve (27) on first as he walks off the field after he was lifted from the game during the sixth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer53of84Houston Astros Alex Bregman walks away from the plate after he was struck out by Tampa Bay Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks to end the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer54of84Houston Astros Michael Brantley (23) walks off the field after grounding out to Tampa Bay Rays Brandon Lowe to end the sixth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer55of84Players in the Houston Astros dugout watch the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer56of84Houston Astros Aledmys Diaz (16) runs to third as the ball gets away from Tampa Bay Rays Willy Adames on a grounder by Jose Altuve during the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer57of84Houston Astros Carlos Correa reacts after hitting a 2-run single against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer58of84Houston Astros Carlos Correa reacts after hitting a 2-run single against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer59of84Houston Astros infielders Carlos Correa, Aledmys Diaz, Jose Altuve (27) and Yuli Gurriel (10) stand on the field during a pitching change in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer60of84Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena rounds the bases after hitting a 2-run home run off Houston Astros Lance McCullers Jr. during the first inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer61of84Houston Astros Michael Brantley (23) walks off the field after grounding out to Tampa Bay Rays Brandon Lowe to end the sixth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer62of84Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom places his hand on the shoulder of reliever Jose Urquidy (65) during a mound visit in the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer63of84Tampa Bay Rays Ji-Man Choi slides safely into third past Houston Astros Alex Bregman (2) as he advanced on a sacrifice fly by Mike Zunino during the sixth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer64of84Tampa Bay Rays Ji-Man Choi celebrates after scoring on a sacrifice fly by Mike Zunino during the sixth inning of Game 7 against the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer65of84Tampa Bay Rays Ji-Man Choi jogs past Houston Astros Martin Maldonado as she scored on a sacrifice fly by Mike Zunino during the sixth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer66of84Houston Astros Jose Urquidy (65) walks back to the mound before being relieved during the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer67of84Houston Astros George Springer stands on deck before batting during Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer68of84Houston Astros Yuli Gurriel reacts after hitting into an inning-ending double play against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer69of84The Houston Astros watch from the dugout as the Tampa Bay Rays take Game 7 with a 4-2 victory in the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer70of84Houston Astros Jose Altuve, left, and Michael Brantley embrace after the Tampa Bay Rays eliminated the Astros in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. The Rays won Game 7 4-2.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer71of84Houston Astros Jose Altuve (27) and Michael Brantley (23) embrace after the Tampa Bay Rays eliminated the Astros in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. The Rays won Game 7 4-2.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer72of84The Houston Astros watch from the dugout as the Tampa Bay Rays take Game 7 with a 4-2 victory in the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer73of84Houston Astros Zack Greinke (21) walks off the field as the Tampa Bay Rays celebrate in the background after the Rays beat the Astros 4-2 to win the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer74of84The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 4-2 win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer75of84The Houston Astros dugout watch the end of the night inning as the Tampa Bay Rays eliminated the Astros with a 4-2 win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer76of84Tampa Bay Rays Randy Arozarena raises his fists as he celebrates winning American League Championship Series MVP award after the Rays beat the Houston Astros 4-2 in Game 7 at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer77of84The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 4-2 win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer78of84Tampa Bay Rays holds the American League Championship Series trophy after the Rays beat the Houston Astros in Game 7 to win the title at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer79of84The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 4-2 win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer80of84Tampa Bay Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks celebrates after closing to the Houston Astros for a 4-2 in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer81of84The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 4-2 win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer82of84The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 4-2 win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer83of84The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 4-2 win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer84of84The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 4-2 win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego.Photo: Karen Warren/Staff photographer

Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. knew what he was up against. He had seen Charlie Morton in command in win or go home games before. He had partnered with him in unforgettable moments, especially their Game 7 World Series triumph that ended with the Astros rushing to Morton in celebration. He knew.

A glance was likely enough of a reminder, with Morton in command of everything he threw, pounding the zone with hard (harder than usual, perhaps) fastballs and his too familiar masterful curve.

The Astros knew.

“Charlie was really good,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said after Morton’s dominant start on Saturday helped key the Ray’s 4-2 to eliminate the Astros. “He’s just one of the best in the game.”

McCullers could not allow mistake pitches, not with his friend and former teammate dealing like that. But he could not match him.

Three pitches went terribly wrong. A wayward first inning piled up the pitch count. McCullers would be through before he could finish the fourth inning. But before he settled down, mixing in his changeup and retiring the Rays as he did when he got rolling in Game 2, he had three pitches get away that changed everything.

“I felt like I threw the ball really well,” McCullers said. “Just one or two pitches back to get the opportunity to really get a full start in and really give the guys some length. I had a lot left to give.”

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The first came on his first pitch of the game, hitting Manuel Margot. Two batters later, he tried to sneak heat past the hottest hitter of the postseason. Randy Arozarena crushed it, sending a 97 miles per hour fastball that caught too much of the plate 417 feet for a 2-0 Rays lead.

An inning later, McCullers was burned on a very different pitch to a very different hitter. When McCullers hung a breaking ball in the top of the zone as if putting it on a tee, Tampa Bay catcher Mike Zunino blasted a 430-foot home run. All seven runs McCullers allowed in the series had come on home runs.

By then, McCullers was certain to have a short night. He needed 50 pitches to get through the first two innings. When he reached 75 pitches, having allowed four hits and three runs in 32/3 innings, Astros manager Dusty Baker called on Brooks Raley to get Kevin Kiermaier, even though McCullers had handled him easily.

That was far from the most surprising hook.

Morton had rolled. Through 52/3 innings, he had given up a first inning single to Michael Brantley and a slow roller that Jose Altuve hit with two outs in the sixth. He had thrown just 66 pitches. Since 1912, Morton’s 0.50 ERA was the third-best in winner-take-all games, behind only Madison Bumgarner and Justin Verlander.

“I felt pretty comfortable early on, which is a struggle in those kinds of games because it is such a high energy atmosphere,” Morton said. “There’s a lot of pressure. I guess when you get the ball in those situations … you just want to go out there and be a pro.”

He is 4-0 in winner-take-all games. He has allowed one earned run and 11 hits in 192/3 innings in those games. According to ESPN Stats, Morton had become the fifth pitcher since 1913 to have started five consecutive postseasons and allow one earned run or fewer. Only Curt Schilling’s streak of six games is longer.

Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled him anyway. The early 3-0 lead was nowhere near as insurmountable as seemed the 3-0 lead in the series the Rays held and the Astros erased. But Cash turned to Nick Anderson, and he got Michael Brantley to ground out to second.

Morton, however, was masterful, moving to 4-0 with a 0.46 ERA in winner take all games. He is unbeaten in his past nine postseason appearances, going 7-0 with a 1.45 ERA and is the second pitcher to win five consecutive decisions with all starts and allow one or fewer earned run in each.

“I try to simplify it to a game plan,” Morton said. “We had some stuff, some ideas each of us had. We basically within three or four minutes agreed on the general concept of what we were going to do. I was completely confident in the game plan. I was completely confident in Z (Mike Zunino) behind the dish and the defense behind us. There was nothing else to do but just go throw the ball.”

Yet, for all his past success in those situations, he might have never thrown it better.

“This is the best I’ve seen Charlie in the time I’ve been able to catch him in the past two years,” Zunino said. “He had everything working. He had a great mix. It’s so much fun to work with Charlie, the knowledge he brings. Seeing him do that on the biggest stage is a lot of fun.”

As the Astros knew. It is what he has done for them and now against them, making him a big game specialist heading to another series with another chance at the biggest of big games.

“I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable,” Morton said. “I guess after the first couple when I actually realized I could do it, big games became something I kind of look forward to a little bit.I’ve dealt with a lack of believe in myself. For organizations to give me the ball in big situations, that was the biggest thing for me, the belief that an organization would have to give the ball to me. I don’t know. I just get in a little bit of a groove there, especially today.

“It means the world to me I feel like the guys in that clubhouse believe in me. That was a really special one to me.”

Jonathan Feigen

reported from Houston

jonathan.feigen@chron.com

twitter.com/jonathan_feigen

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Jonathan Feigen has been the Rockets beat writer since 1998 and a basketball nut since before Willis Reed limped out for Game 7. He became a sports writer because the reporter that was supposed to cover the University of Delaware basketball team decided to instead play one more season of college lacrosse and has never looked back.

Feigen, who has won APSE, APME and United States Basketball Writers Association awards from El Campo to Houston, came to Texas in 1981 to cover the Rice Birds, was Sports Editor in Garland before moving to Dallas to cover everything from the final hurrah of the Southwest Conference to SMU after the death penalty.

After joining the Houston Chronicle in 1990, Feigen has covered the demise of the SWC, the rise of the Big 12 and the Rockets at their championship best.

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