Culture / Sporting Life

Justin Verlander Drama, Quick Ejecting Umpire and a Good Guy Down Cannot Slow Baseball’s Most Complete Team

Charlie Morton's Houston Return Becomes a Referendum on Seizing the Greatness While You Can

BY // 08.28.19

Sometimes the good guy loses and your team still wins. That is what Houston Astros fans went through on Charlie Morton return night, with the home team battering around one of the most significant and heartfelt World Series heroes.

Morton might as well have been handed a blindfold and a cigarette after the Astros classily played a video tribute in his honor on the giant Minute Maid Park scoreboard. For the man who got the last out of the World Series for the Astros on that magical November 1, 2017 night had little fighting chance against his old teammates (or the new Astros for that matter) in his Houston return.

Still, Charlie Morton leaves the visitors clubhouse at Minute Maid, still talking about how honored he felt to call the other clubhouse down the hall home for two seasons.

“That’s Chuck,” Astros outfielder Josh Reddick says after the Astros 15-1 win over Morton’s Tampa Bay Rays. “Anybody who doesn’t know Chuck, he’s very laid-back Charlie Morton. It’s always, ‘Hey pal. How you doing?’ Soft spoken… We’ll always wish him the best.”

No one would ever describe Justin Verlander as soft spoken. And the Astros ace was hardly whispering sweet nothings when he turned his back to home plate umpire Pat Hoberg and found himself ejected before he turned back around.

Verlander gets held back by Astros bench coach Joe Espada when he realizes he’s been tossed — and his anger really flares up at the unexpected premature end of his night. The future Hall of Famer will fling his glove against the dugout wall and yell some more choice words at Hoberg before he retreats to the clubhouse.

Did Verlander overreact at a pitch not being called a strike that Statcast actually confirmed was a ball by the letter of the strike zone? Yes.

Did Hoberg fail to realize that people pay to watch Justin Verlander pitch and not him umpire? Triple yes.

“I didn’t really think it was warranted,” Verlander says of his fourth ejection in 447 career starts. “As an umpire, I think Pat needs to understand this is an emotional game, and sometimes when things don’t go your way, you let the umpire know it.

“I thought I did it in about as respectful a way as I could where my emotions were at.”

Once Verlander turned his back toward Hoberg, even if he continued using language fit for Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special, you can argue that the umpire has no urgent reason to toss him. The 32-year-old Hoberg saw it differently.

“I probably could have had better language when I said that, but with my history with umpires, I think turning my back to the situation, I’m trying to just vent at this point,” Verlander insists. “I never called him a name. I never said anything egregious toward him.

“I just expressed my displeasure with the call on the field, and unfortunately he made the decision to run me.”

In the end, all the drama means little. Not with the Astros putting double digit runs on the board for the second straight game. Not with 11 different Astros getting a hit. Not with Yordan Alvarez collecting his fourth multi home run game of the season in only the 60th game of his career.

In fact, the scariest fright of the night for future Astros opponents has to be the sight of the powerful rookie going opposite field and depositing a home run in the Crawford Boxes.

“Yeah, it’s an adjustment I’m trying to make,” Alvarez says through an interpreter. “Just trying to hit to all fields. And you see some of the results there.”

There seem to be no adjustments good enough against the most complete lineup in Major League Baseball.

The Other Side

Morton lasts only four innings against his former team, sees his ERA rise from 2.85 to 3.11 thanks to one outing against the most relentless lineup in baseball. The unlikely World Series star gives up six runs to Alex Bregman and Company, four in the fourth inning alone.

The curveball that served Morton so well during Houston’s World Series run is pummeled all night long. Morton keeps throwing it in the heart of the plate. The Astros keep tattooing it.

It’s just another reminder that life is better as an Astro — not that Charlie Morton had much choice about his free agent departure.

Charlie Morton
Charlie Morton left his first start back in Houston searching for answers. But his legacy with the Astros is forever secure. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

The Astros clubhouse became a little less friendly place without Morton in it. In the wake of that championship-clinching win, with champagne puddles still all around the visitors clubhouse at Dodgers Stadium, Morton passionately spoke about the Hurricane Harvey devastation he and his teammates witnessed flying back into Houston for the first time post storm — and how that made winning the World Series mean so much more.

Charlie Morton always got it. You get the sense he gets it now too.

It’s fine to be a Tampa Bay Ray. But there are only so many teams like these modern day Houston Astros — do something special for one of them and it forever defines your career.

Morton’s not the only one who could feel that on this wild Tuesday night.

“As long as I’m here, it definitely will be a stretch I look back on in my career the rest of my life,” Reddick says of his own run as an Astro. “It’s a fun team to be a part of. We just seem to get better and better every year.

“A lot of guys don’t get the pleasure of being on teams this good.”

You can go home again to where everything changed for you. But it’s not the same when the show goes rolling on.

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