The Braves entered play on Thursday in dire need of two things: a win and a solid outing from a starting pitcher. They accomplished both feats, thanks in large part to Charlie Morton for an outstanding performance that saw him hold the Cardinals hitless through 61⁄3 innings. The Atlanta offense provided enough support for Morton, enabling the Braves to come away with a 4-0 victory in the series opener.
The game began with each pitcher, Morton and Cardinals starter John Gant, blanking the opposing offense for four innings. The first real scoring opportunity came in the bottom of the fourth inning when Ronald Acuna and Freddie Freeman began the frame with back-to-back singles, were unable to score as Gant pitched out of trouble.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, however, Atlanta took a 1-0 lead on a two-out solo homer from Guillermo Heredia. The eighth-place hitter battled to a 2-2 count, then blasted a pitch that was well above the strike zone into the opposing bullpen.
This would be all the run support required by Morton, who continued to dazzle. After six innings, the only baserunners to reach for St. Louis were Matt Carpenter and Dylan Carlson, who were hit by pitches. This gave the right-hander a legitimate shot at pitching the first no-hitter by a Braves pitcher since Kent Mercker in 1994.
Meanwhile, the offense went back to work in the bottom-half of the inning, adding two more runs. Ronald Acuna walked to lead off the inning, then stole second and advanced to third on a groundout. Ozzie Albies followed with a one-out triple to score Acuna and give Atlanta a 2-0 lead. He was then chased home by Abraham Almonte, who doubled to push the advantage to 3-0. Another run would score in the seventh inning as Guillermo Heredia doubled and eventually scored on an Acuna sacrifice fly to give the Braves a 4-0 lead.
Morton pitched into the eighth inning, having allowed only two baserunners and limiting the Cardinals offense to hardly a whimper. They were able to chase the right-hander from the game with two outs after a couple soft singles necessitated a change. Luke Jackson entered and struck out the only batter he faced to end the rally. Morton exited have pitched 72⁄3 shutout innings with seven strikeouts and three hits allowed. He generated 18 swings and misses from the St. Louis, utilizing his incredible curveball to keep the opposition off-balance.
Will Smith entered the game in the ninth and slammed the door on a much-needed Atlanta win. Given their recent performance, seeing the bullpen extinguish a small fire then close out the win with limited drama was a welcome sight. Having Charlie Morton throw an absolute gem must have been just as therapeutic for the starting rotation, who have seen their share of struggles as well. A shutout win should do wonders for changing the mood in the clubhouse, not to mention allowing the Braves to gain a game in the standings after the Mets lost on Thursday night.
The Braves now sit 6.5 games out of first-place in the NL East. If the staff can build on this performance by Morton and the offense can continue their ascent, this Atlanta team is capable of reeling off a winning streak that would put them right back into the mix.