By John Perrotto
What’s the best way to stop a losing streak? How about by throwing a shutout?
If the other team doesn’t score, you’re eventually going to score a run and win, even a team with as anemic of an offense as the Pirates.
Charlie Morton gave the Pirates the pitching performance they desperately needed Monday night as he threw eight scoreless innings and combined with Jose Veras on a six-hit shutout in a 5-0 victory over the defending World Series champions Giants at San Francisco to mercifully end a 10-game losing streak.
The skid represented one of the most demoralizing stretches since the Pirates’ streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons in 1993. During the 10 days in which the Pirates lost three games to Philadelphia, four to the Chicago Cubs and three to San Diego, they went from being 1 1/2 games back in the National League Central to 10 games behind first-place Milwaukee. The Pirates also dropped from five games over .500 to five games under.
However, Morton ended the frustration and here are some reasons why he was able to raise his record to 9-6 and lower his ERA to 3.56 just a year after going 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA. *He compensated for his Achillies heel of struggling against left-handed hitters by dominating right-handers. Righties went 0-for-14 and 34 of his 48 pitches to them were strikes. They were 0-for-8 against his sinker and 0-for-6 against the curveball as he threw 25 of 35 sinkers and 9 of 12 curves for strikes.
Left-handers went 6-for-15 but Morton was able to limit their damage. Lefties are hitting .384 against him this season in 211 at-bats while he has held righties to a .197 mark in 279 at-bats.
*He did not panic when he fell behind in the count. Morton threw just 13 first-pitch strikes to the 32 batters he faced, including only 6 of 18 against lefties. Yet despite throwing strike one in just 41 percent of the Giants’ plate appearance, Morton was able to put up eight zeroes on the AT&Park scoreboard.
Prior to Monday, opposing hitters had a .359 batting average against Morton in 156 at-bats when ahead in the count, compared to a .226 mark in 146 ABs when behind.
*He was able to get outs when he needed them. The Giants were 2-for-15 with runners on base and hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position while hitting into inning-ending double plays in the fourth and fifth.
The soft-spoken and introspective Morton has long had the reputation of being soft and opponents were hitting .281 with runners on base and .256 with runners in scoring position prior to Monday. However, he was able to bear down in pivotal situations in what very well could have been the Pirates’ most pivotal game of the season.
John Perrrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball for 24 years.