A remarkable event occurred at PNC Park, Wednesday evening. Charlie Morton owner of an 0-5 record, finally won his first game since September 30 of last year. Both, coincidentally, came at the expense of the Chicago Cubs.
He pitched six innings, which was certainly remarkable considering he has only gone at least four innings once in his previous five starts. He lowered his astronomic ERA from 12.57, the second highest ERA for a pitcher beginning the season 0-5 in 87 years, to an almost earthly 10.30. He managed to give up only two runs on four hits (all singles at that) and walked none. But most impressive of all: 23 of his first 27 pitches were thrown for strikes.
Pittsburgh sports airways are awash with optimism. Callers are passionately certain that Morton, and with him the team, have turned a corner. Their record after a nice start, followed by a few disastrous series, has begun to improve, if you can call "three games under .500" an improvement. And in Pirates terms, there is little question it is.
Hopefully more help is on the way soon. Ross Ohlendorf, who had an ERA under 4.00 before he was placed on the 15-day disabled list, pitched four scoreless innings in a rehab assignment.
Ryan Church has hit a home run in each of the last two games. True, they were his first of the season, but then he wasn't a regular starter. More importantly, he has bought into "the lose large, win the close ones" strategy.
"If you're going to lose big," he told a local reporter, "you might as well do it early in the season." While it might be better early in the season, rather than late, I'm not sure, but I am sure that if you're going to lose, other than for your pride, it really doesn't matter if you lose by one or 20. A loss is a loss. For the Pirates, runs can be hard to come by; you sure as hell don't want to waste them.
The Pirates are like the little girl with the curl in the nursery rhyme: when they win, they win very, very close and when they lose, their losses are horrid. When they lose, they are outscored 141-30. On the other hand, when they win, they outscore their opponents 63-37. What they need is a few more close ones; the more the better.
To date, Charlie Morton hasn't managed to get it done. Everyone seems to agree he has a great fastball, but that seems to be it. He has trouble controlling his breaking stuff. He has trouble with the changeup. One talk show host complained that with bases loaded last night, the count 2-2 on slumping Aramis Ramirez, he threw him a changeup for a ball. Ramirez ended up hitting a sacrifice fly. The trouble is you can't be a one-pitch pitcher and pitch effectively in the major leagues. You need to show hitters something besides the fastball. At 26, Morton isn't exactly a kid; you would think if he was ever going to be able to throw the breaking ball effectively, he would have shown it by now.
Hope, like love, springs eternal. After all, Charlie doesn't have to actually win the games. All he has to do is keep them close — close enough for Ryan Church to hit his third home run, preferably a walk off.