HOUSTON – While the uniform keeps changing, Charlie Morton is becoming a staple of the Fall Classic, which is set to debut in the World Series for the third time in five seasons this week.
Houston Astros left-hander Framber Valdez is virtually unknown to domestic audiences, with the 27-year-old set to make his series debut when he throws against Morton and the Atlanta Braves in Game One on Tuesday. evening.
When asked to describe himself to those who might see him on the mound for the first time, the beefy Valdez put on a huge smile before responding.
“I consider myself a happy man” he said in Spanish through a translator. “I had a lot of problems in the past, but I was able to overcome them and overcome them to get to where I am today. It’s just a lot of sacrifice and hard work.
Morton pitched for Houston from 2017-18, winning the seventh game of the 2017 World Series in relief at Dodger Stadium.
He’s trying to approach this departure like any of the other 306 in his 14-year career and not be distracted by his history with the Astros.
“But I’m sure I’m going to feel some things when I get on that mound,” he said. “I don’t think there is a way not to do it.”
Although he left Houston three years ago and has been a part of his second team since then, the veteran right-hander remains a favorite for many Astros. All-star second baseman Jose Altuve was asked what kind of teammate Morton is.
“The best you can have” said Altuve. “He’s so good. He is incredible. I have nothing but good things to say about him.
This will be the second year in a row Morton faces the Astros in the playoffs after a dominant performance against them with Tampa Bay. Morton pitched five scoreless innings to win Game 2 of the 2020 AL Championship Series before throwing a scoreless ball in Round 6 of Game 7 for the victory that sent the Rays to last year’s World Series.
“He helped us a lot last year” Houston third baseman Alex Bregman said shaking his head before adding that Morton is “one of the all-time favorite teammates.”
Aware of these comments from Altuve and Bregman, Morton lowered his head and stuck out his lip, looking like a sad child before responding.
“I’m really humbled that they say that,” he said before a long pause. ” It’s rather good. “
Tuesday will mark Morton’s 16th playoff start and 17th appearance. The only relief came in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, when he took over in sixth and allowed a run in four innings to shut the door to the Dodgers and secure Houston’s lone championship.
Morton, who turns 38 next month, won 14 games in his first year with the Braves and tied for the major league lead with 33 starts. Tuesday will be his fourth start of these playoffs after suffering the loss in NLDS Game 1 against Milwaukee and not making a decision in Game 4 of this series or Game 3 of the NLCS.
Valdez made his playoff debut in last year’s pandemic shortened season and was key to Houston’s playoff race. He came in relief and won the opening round one game against Minnesota before throwing Houston to victory in a Division Series game two start against rival Oakland. Valdez lost the ALCS opener but rebounded by allowing one run and striking out nine in a Game 6 victory to keep Houston’s season alive.
He’s had a tough start to the playoffs this year and allowed a total of seven runs in seven innings in two starts – one in the Division series and one in the ALCS – before spinning a gem in his most recent outing. .
Valdez allowed just three hits and one run in eight innings in a win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park to give the Astros a 3-2 lead in the series and save a taxed field.
As he prepares to pitch onto baseball’s biggest stage, Valdez finds it hard to believe how far he has come since signing with the Dominican Republic Astros in 2015.
“In 2014 and 2015 I wouldn’t have thought I would be a starter in the first game of the World Series, but now it’s real and I appreciate it.” he said. “It’s just a privilege.”
Asked about the difference between his two ALCS starts, Valdez said he found a way to control his excitement and not let the moment become too important for him.
“For me, it’s about controlling my emotions, controlling adrenaline”, he said. “Just worry about executing my throws, throwing my throws hard and not trying to be too perfect with everything and let the results follow from there.”
The Astros need him to build on his last big game to help stabilize a pitching team that will be without top star Lance McCullers in the World Series. McCullers was sidelined from the ALCS after stretching a forearm muscle in Game 4 of the Division Series, and announced on Monday that he would not return this season.