Entering the 2017 season, Brandon Morrow had never thrown in an MLB playoff game. Finally, after a wondrous year and 104 regular-season wins by his Los Angeles Dodgers, the Rohnert Park native was able to pitch into October. And pitch some more. And pitch, and pitch and pitch. He was still pitching when we hit November.
By the time the season ended with the Houston Astros’ victory against the Dodgers in Game 7 of an epic World Series, the National Baseball Hall of Fame was asking for Morrow’s cap and cleats.
Morrow, a starter for most of his career, had tied two significant records as a reliever, becoming the second player ever to pitch in 14 games in one postseason (matching Cleveland’s Paul Assenmacher in 1997) and in seven World Series games (joining the A’s Darold Knowles in 1973).
It was a major triumph for a guy who has persevered through type 1 diabetes, Valley fever and, most recently, shoulder surgery. And yet it ended with Morrow watching numbly from the home dugout as the Astros celebrated at Dodger Stadium on Nov. 1.
“I guess I’ve had pretty conflicting feelings about it,” Morrow said. “You feel pretty down when you think about being so close and not coming through. And then you’ll see on Twitter, or on TV, or something with the Astros on there — if they’re going on late-night television or ‘Good Morning America,’ stuff like that. And seeing pictures of them at Disneyland, just thinking how close you got.”
The flip side of Morrow’s feelings was obvious. He had started the season in the minor leagues, and had finished it as a crucial member of a World Series team.
Morrow, a 2003 Rancho Cotate grad, was speaking to me by phone as he made the straight shot through the desert from L.A. to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he lives in the offseason. He was caravaning with his wife and baby, who were approximately 10 minutes ahead of him on I-10.
No one could have guessed that Morrow would pitch in 14 of the Dodgers’ 15 postseason games, but he said that manager Dave Roberts and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt had made it clear that he was destined for heavy usage.
“I guess we call it the Andrew Miller role,” Morrow said, a reference to the Cleveland Indians’ brilliant middle reliever.
In other words, Morrow would generally enter the game to face the heart of the opposing lineup, probably in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning, and form a bridge from the Dodgers’ starter to shutdown closer Kenley Jansen.
The Dodgers kept building leads as they swept the Diamondbacks in a National League division series and downed the Cubs in five games in the NL championship series, and Roberts kept turning to Morrow to set up Jansen.
Despite being a postseason neophyte, Morrow said the only time he felt butterflies was before the first game of each series, when the teams would line up along the baselines for pregame introductions. Other than that, he was ready every time the bullpen phone rang. Well, sort of.
“The phone is actually what can kind of set you off. That loud ring with the strobe light on the phone so you don’t miss it,” he said. “But once you get the ball in your hand, then things kind of settle into more normalcy.”