Morton exits early in Pirates' loss to Cardinals

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 3:39 p.m.

ST. LOUIS — The only good news the Pirates got Sunday was that their most reliable pitcher did not reinjure his surgically rebuilt arm in a wipeout loss against the Cardinals.

But even that news came with a qualifier.

An injury to his left foot — the team labeled it “discomfort,” which can span all sorts of possible maladies — forced right-hander Charlie Morton to exit in the second inning. He left Busch Stadium before the game ended and caught a flight to Pittsburgh to be examined by team doctors.

The Cardinals pounded a half-dozen hits off Morton, and they didn't stop after he left the game. The Pirates managed just two hits in seven innings against rookie Michael Wacha and absorbed a 9-2 beating.

“We kicked their butts at our place, and they got us back,” outfielder Garrett Jones said.

The three-game sweep dropped the Pirates 1 12 games behind the first-place Cardinals in the NL Central. The Pirates open a series Monday against the Texas Rangers and Cy Young Award candidate Yu Darvish.

“My expectations (coming into this season) were we'd be in a dogfight,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “And we're legitimately in a dogfight. How do you get better? You've got to go through the fire and deal with these things.”

In the second inning, with a runner on third base and two outs, Morton (7-4) threw a changeup that bounced several feet in front of the plate. Jon Jay scored on the wild pitch to make it 5-0.

Pitching coach Ray Searage went out to talk to Morton, then called for athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk. After a quick conversation, Morton walked off the field with Tomczyk.

According to the Pirates, Morton told team officials he hurt his foot covering home plate.

“He said he felt something pop in his foot,” catcher John Buck said.

Morton had Tommy John surgery on June 14, 2012. After rehabbing in Bradenton, Fla., and making nine minor league outings, he made his season debut with the Pirates on June 13.

Since the All-Star break, Morton has been the Pirates' most consistent starter. He went 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA over his previous nine starts.

Wacha (3-0) came up big in just his 12th outing (sixth start) in the majors. The righty worked seven innings, walked two and struck out two.

“We've got to ride this out and hopefully get it going in Texas,” Jones said.

There's a lot on the team's plate, though. Morton's status is up in the air. The Pirates have blown four consecutive chances to claim win No. 82, which will end their ugly, 20-year losing streak. And they may be in danger of drifting out of contention for the division title.

Yet Hurdle seemed somewhat baffled that fans, even those who stood staunchly behind the team over the past two decades, are nervous about where it all will lead.

“We've earned this opportunity to play meaningful games in September, based on what we've done through the entire volume of games in a season,” Hurdle said. “And there's still people I talk to who wake up every morning in fear, not in hope.

“It's amazing what a pennant race does to people. I tell them, ‘If you're going to ride that roller coaster, put your seatbelt on. That's a hard place to live.' I've done it. That's why I don't do it anymore. I understand what fans do, but that can't be what I do.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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