10/02/2002 02:47 am ET
Morris finds his focus and wins
Cardinals righty settles down after shaky start
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Before leaving Bank One Ballpark on Tuesday night, Matt Morris offered a brief and hilarious reminder of the mental scramble that troubled him earlier in the evening.
Assessing the St. Louis Cardinals' position in the Division Series after their 12-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Morris said, "We've got to focus back in for Wednesday and see what happens -- or Thursday, whenever it is." Realizing that he had struggled to name the day when Game 2 will be played, Morris added helplessly, "I'm done," prompting laughter from the reporters listening to him.
Morris displayed a similar lack of focus in the early innings against the Diamondbacks. He harnessed neither his abundance of energy nor his command of his pitches. "I went out there early with some adrenaline flowing," he said. But he collected himself admirably and lasted seven innings, throwing 60 strikes in 89 pitches, and while he surrendered seven hits and both Arizona runs, he limited the Diamondbacks to just two singles -- one of them an infield hit -- in his final four innings.
Morris emerged with his first victory in seven postseason appearances, including three starts. His previous two starts were excruciating outings -- a 1-0 loss in last year's Division Series opener against Arizona in which he lasted seven innings and absorbed the decision, and a no-decision in Game 5, when he yielded one run in eight innings as the Diamondbacks outlasted St. Louis, 2-1.
This was truly a victory to savor for Morris, who has won 39 regular-season games in the last two years for St. Louis.
"[Manager Tony] LaRussa handed me the game ball, which I haven't had in two years," Morris said. "It's all exciting."
It was a little too exciting for Morris at the outset. The first-inning run he allowed was unearned, due to shortstop Edgar Renteria's misplay of leadoff batter Tony Womack's line drive. But Morris also allowed three sharp singles and would have encountered deeper trouble had left fielder Albert Pujols not thrown out Junior Spivey at home plate with a powerful one-hop throw.
"Early on, if he wasn't excited, he's not human," LaRussa said.
Continuing to look shaky in the next two innings, Morris had allowed a run in the third inning when pitching coach Dave Duncan visited him.
Asked if was trying to calm down Morris, Duncan said, "It was just that. 'Hey, you just have to take a breath here and not think of yourself as a rock-and-fire type of guy, but as a pitcher.' We were all excited when the game began, and Matt was the center of attention. It took him a couple of innings to settle down and start really pitching. I think before that he was trying to overpower them. Once he settled down, he started thinking about making good pitches in good locations."
Said Morris, recalling Duncan's visit, "'Come on, start pitching' is pretty much what he said. When you've been watching me for my whole career, it's easy to tell when I'm pitching and when I'm not pitching."
Morris' resurgence became especially obvious after he retired David Dellucci to end the third inning with Diamondbacks on first and second base. From that point on, Morris retired the next nine hitters he faced and 13 of the final 15.
"From the third inning on, he appeared to rediscover his curveball and started throwing that for strikes when he wanted to," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "A couple of innings after that he started mixing in straight changeups. It was like his pitches came to him in waves, almost. I thought we hit him pretty good early, but he's a battler."
Sometimes, said Morris, a pitcher can battle too hard.
"I think with me, it's a key to relax out there and stop being so aggressive, because when I'm too aggressive, my ball seems to get up in the [strike] zone," he said. "Once I locked it in, after the fourth inning or so, I was able to get some groundballs and be more aggressive with some runs on the board ... I felt like I was getting a little stronger."
In this sense, Morris' performance complemented St. Louis' overall effort. In fact, he contributed a seventh-inning RBI single for his first postseason hit.
"The offense gave me a nice cushion," he said. "You know, when you're up 10 runs, it's easy to be aggressive."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.