Charlie Morton faces Astros yet again, this time in World Series

Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) walks on the field during workout in preparation for Game 1 of baseball's World Series against Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Monday, October 25, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

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Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) walks on the field during workout in preparation for Game 1 of baseball's World Series against Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Monday, October 25, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

HOUSTON – When the Braves named Charlie Morton their Game 1 starter in the World Series against the Astros – his former team – the veteran knew the questions that’d follow during Monday’s press conference.

“I’m sure there’s going to be emotions there that I’ve experienced before,” Morton said. “I got to come back here in 2019 (with the Rays) and pitch a regular season game. I pitched against them in the postseason in 2019.

“In 2019, they had a little video before the game trying to get me distracted, and then I pitched against them a couple times last postseason. I’ve already revisited that, and obviously a couple years have gone by. I’ll always have really fond memories of the guys over there. But coming back here, it’s only natural you’re going to feel something. What that is, I don’t know.”

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Morton, 37, became an ace-level pitcher with the Astros from 2017-18. He had a 3.36 ERA in 55 games across those seasons. In 2017, he helped the Astros to their first title in franchise history. A year later, he earned his first All-Star nod at age 34.

Before the 2019 season, Morton signed with the Rays, who play near his Bradenton, Florida home. He couldn’t escape the Astros, facing them in the 2019 and 2020 postseasons. His Rays fell to Houston in 2019 – those Astros lost in the World Series to the Nationals – but he started Game 7 of last year’s American League Championship Series, holding the Astros scoreless over 5-2/3 innings en route to the Rays winning the pennant.

Now, on Tuesday, Morton will return to the Minute Maid Park mound yet again. He’s been paramount in the Braves’ surge to this stage. Morton is their only starter who avoided the injured list. He provided steadiness, leadership and experience.

“He makes a big impact everywhere he goes,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “Special person. If you have a 14-pronged fork, he’s been on every single road, and it took him a little bit longer than I’m sure he wanted to figure out the success, but when he got here, he figured it out. He’s taken that and run with it. He’s become, in my opinion, the best big game pitcher there is in this sport, and we’ve got him going Game 1. That’s huge for us.”

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The Braves can flip the series in their favor if they take one of the first two games in Houston. With Morton starting Game 1, they’ll like their odds.

For Morton, it will be an emotional day, even if he can’t convey what he expects to feel.

“Being back here in Houston, having played with a few of those guys over there, gone through a lot with some of those guys over there, and then obviously the stage we’re on here, those are all things I’m well aware of,” Morton said. “I’m sure I’m going to feel some things when I get on that mound. I don’t think there’s any way not to.”