Morton shines at right time
PITTSBURGH — As if the Pirates’ 2017 season wasn’t rotten enough and thankfully buried, there was a post-Halloween haunting.
That came with Charlie Morton pitching the last four innings of Game 7, nailing down the Houston Astros’ first World Series championship.
Yes, the same Charlie Morton who alternated brilliance and baffling failure with the Pirates from 2009 to 2015.
He could tantalize skillfully enough to draw comparisons to Roy Halladay. At other times he’d make you wonder what he was doing in the major leagues.
The Pirates tried different approaches with him. None worked consistently. They finally gave up after the ’15 season, giving him away to the Phillies to get relief from a contract that had $9 million remaining. There was no outcry when he left town.
Things stayed quiet last season when Morton was limited to four games and 17 innings for Philadelphia by a torn hamstring.
He had a good year for Houston this season, but his postseason magic didn’t kick in until the World Series. He made one appearance in the Division Series against Boston and came away with a 4.15 earned run average and 2.077 WHIP. He won a game against the Yankees in the ALCS, but also lost one and wound up with a 7.15 ERA.
Then the magic dust fell on him in the World Series — one start, followed by the unexpected relief appearance in the deciding game. His ERA was 1.74, his WHIP a microscopic 0.581 over 10• innings.
Did he finally figure things out just weeks short of his 34th birthday? Maybe, but unlikely. It was more like Charlie being Charlie, and being capable of very radically mixed results in a short period of time.
There were always teases, like this sample, grabbed randomly from his 2011 season. He had a stretch of four starts from Aug. 3-20 where he had a 0.95 ERA. In the start before that streak started, he allowed six earned runs. In the start that ended the streak, he gave up five earned runs.
It was always the endless tug of war between Good Charlie and Bad Charlie. You never knew which one would report for work.
Good Charlie showed up big time last week for the Astros. After 10 often frustrating seasons, his timing was finally perfect.
The Pirates picked up their $14.75 million option on Andrew McCutchen last week.
That still doesn’t guarantee he’ll play for the Pirates in 2018. Picking up the option means he’s their property and they can trade him if the want to.
The belief here is that McCutchen will be on the opening day roster, but won’t be with the Pirates beyond next season.
McCutchen had a 50-50 season last year — three good months and three bad ones. When he’s hot, he can still carry the team. He just doesn’t get hot as often as he once did.
That’s why it makes no sense to extend him, since that additional commitment would kick in after he turns 32. But they need him in 2018.
The Pirates don’t have anyone on hand to replace the production McCutchen gave them last season (28 home runs, 88 runs batted in, .849 OPS). Heir apparent Austin Meadows spent much of last season on the disabled list and is no closer to playing in the major leagues than he was a year ago.
Josh Harrison remains the Pirates most valuable and available trade chip as they head into the offseason looking to plug holes that were exposed last season.
Of course, dealing Harrison would spring another leak.
No Steelers game this weekend.
Some people are going to have their complaining schedule totally disrupted.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org