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'A hero in the postseason': Charlie Morton becomes Atlanta's inspiration after pitching on broken leg

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HOUSTON — It will live forever in Atlanta folklore.

It was the night Atlanta won its first World Series game in more than 25 years,, knocking off the Houston Astros 6-2 on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.

The score, and perhaps the outcome of Game 1 of the World Series, will be forgotten over time.

The memory that will be forever etched in Atlanta history is that their 37-year-old leader, Charlie Morton, broke his leg in a World Series game and stayed on the mound for three more batters, retiring each of them before nearly crumbling to the mound.

If Atlanta needs any inspiration to win its first World Series since 1995, the players need to look no further than Morton.

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Morton threw 16 pitches after Yuli Gurriel hit a ball 102.4 mph off his right leg to lead off the second inning, caroming so hard that it ricocheted to first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Atlanta starter Charlie Morton left World Series Game 1 in the third inning with a broken leg.
Atlanta starter Charlie Morton left World Series Game 1 in the third inning with a broken leg.

Morton then struck out Chas McCormick and induced a liner by Martin Maldonado for the final out. He retreated to the dugout and insisted he could keep pitching.

“When the inning was over, he said, 'Oh, that one got me good.' He was kind of walking a little funny," catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “I didn't think it was broken. I just thought he took a line drive off of his leg. But to go out there and strike out the next guy with a broken leg, it blows my mind."

The pain was excruciating, but Morton refused to come out. He took X-rays and they came back negative.

“He wanted to keep going because he was down in the tunnel and he was throwing against the wall, and he said, 'It kind of hurts more when I run. I feel good when I throw.’ Then obviously, it didn't," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said.

“I mean, just the fact that he wanted to keep going. That's Charlie. He wants to be on this stage. God bless him."

So Morton went out for the third inning. He struck out Jose Altuve on six pitches and stumbled off the mound, barely catching himself before falling.

He was done for the night. Done for the season.

“It's incredible that he even like thought of going out there," d’Arnaud said. “I bet you it was so [reliever] A.J. [Minter] could have some more time to get ready. For him to sacrifice himself to make sure A.J. was ready and for him to strike out Altuve is incredible.

“I hate it for him. Really hate it for him. He's such a great person, great person and teammate."

Minter came up to the clubhouse to check on Morton, who just found out from the next set of X-rays that he had a fractured fibula. He was in excruciating pain, but he tried to keep anyone from knowing.

“You could tell he was devastated, but he wasn't going to show it. He's been the leader of this starting rotation," Minter said. “It hurts losing Charlie. What he's been to this team all year, everyone knows Charlie. His career, he's a hero in the postseason. So it's definitely a blow losing him Game 1.

“But if you've been watching us all year, we've just been answering the bell and overcoming adversity all year."

Oh, yes, indeed. This is a team that lost their best player, best pitcher, best slugger and d’Arnaud for more than three months, and still won the NL East.

So should it be a surprise that the bullpen, led by Minter’s 2 ⅔ innings, shut down the Astros’ powerful offense for 6 ⅔ innings?

Or that every batter in the lineup produced at least one hit, with five players reaching base at least twice, for the first time in a World Series game since 2014?

“Yeah, it's tough losing Charlie," d’Arnaud said. “The person he is in the clubhouse, the mentor he is in the clubhouse, especially this time of the year, is very valuable.

“For us to lose him in Game 1, it's a dagger, but he's still going to be there with us, cheering us on, and still trying to teach us everything that he's learned along his path and his career."

Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos and club officials were not prepared to announce a replacement for Morton, or how they’ll compensate for his loss, knowing they were planning on him starting at least one more game.

“I just told Alex, 'Don't worry, these guys are going to keep going,'" Snitker said. “They're going to keep fighting. They're going to keep battling. We've been through this many times this year, losing key components to our club. I mean, really key components.

“We're going to continue. It's not going to be an excuse or anything else."

If the front office wasn’t going to give up after being six games out of first place in June, losing outfielder Ronald Acuña in July, and not climbing over .500 until August, why stop now?

Now, they’ve got a find a way to win three more games knowing that Morton won’t be throwing another pitch.

“I think going forward, we're going to be just fine," d'Arnaud said.

They’ve done it all year.

There’s no reason to stop believing now.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World Series: Charlie Morton is Braves' inspiration after broken leg