Along the way, Morrow said, he came to learn Knowles’s claim to fame: he is the only pitcher to work seven games of a World Series, doing so for the Oakland Athletics in 1973, when they defeated the Mets. Even with so much bullpen specialization in the decades since, nobody has matched the feat.
“It’s been 40-something years, and I always tell my wife it’s going to happen,” Knowles said by phone from Florida. “I think it will — and maybe this will be the year. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy than Brandon.
“He had a lot of injuries when he was a starter with the Blue Jays, but it looks like he’s found his niche,” Knowles said. “He always threw hard. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be able to go two or three days in a row, but obviously that’s not a problem.”
Credit Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
It had not been a problem when Knowles spoke, just before Game 5. By then, Morrow had thrown 12⅓ postseason innings, with a 1.46 earned run average, as the primary setup man for Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.
But Game 5 was Morrow’s 12th outing in the Dodgers’ 13 postseason games, and by the time he was done, an 8-7 Los Angeles lead had become an 11-8 deficit after a homer by George Springer, a single by Alex Bregman, a double by Jose Altuve and another homer by Carlos Correa.
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts had said before the game that while Morrow was available, he hoped not to use him. But Clayton Kershaw did not survive the fifth inning, and Roberts deployed Kenta Maeda and Tony Watson to get through the sixth.
He still had four relievers (not including Jansen) for the seventh — Ross Stripling, Tony Cingrani, Josh Fields and Brandon McCarthy — but Morrow had sent word from the bullpen insisting he was ready.
“When I saw where the game was at in the seventh, I was getting loose and I was feeling O.K.,” Morrow said. “Probably selfish on my part to call down and push to let them know I’m ready and want to get in. They had a plan — we’re obviously very plan-oriented and try to stick to that – and I made them deviate away.”
Then again, Morrow was telling the Dodgers what they wanted to hear. Roberts did not need much convincing.
“I mean, I didn’t have to try too hard,” Morrow conceded. “I guess everybody’s trying to step up.”
Roberts called it “a credit to him” that Morrow asked to pitch, and said it would have been hard to turn him down. Morrow, who signed a minor-league contract in January for $1.125 million, had a 2.06 E.R.A. with no home runs allowed over 45 games this season and averaged more than five and a half strikeouts per walk.
“He was very good in spring training,” Roberts said. “You see the plus, plus velocity, and you always think, in a shorter stint, will his stuff play up? So he really embraced coming out of the pen this year, and he did that for our Triple-A club.”
Morrow, who had pitched for a decade with Seattle, Toronto and San Diego, yearned for the intensity that comes with the major leagues. But he had pitched only 18 games for the Padres last season after shoulder surgery in 2015 had ended his career as a starter.
“I was obviously hoping to get a major league deal,” said Morrow, who had a 1.69 E.R.A. in 18 games for San Diego. “I thought I threw the ball really well, but the swing-and-miss stuff wasn’t there, and the velocity wasn’t quite back all the way. Picking up the ball this year, though, something was different, like I knew I was stronger, ready to go. I felt like myself again.”
Morrow has always had the stuff to dominate. Seattle drafted him fifth over all in 2006, out of the University of California, passing on Andrew Miller and three future Cy Young Award winners — Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer — who went in the next six picks.
The Mariners never found a steady role for Morrow, who has learned to manage Type 1 diabetes throughout his career. Traded to Toronto in December 2009, he periodically flourished as a starter, and lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning in 2010, finishing with a 137-pitch, 17-strikeout one-hitter. In 2012, he threw three shutouts through the first week in June.
Then an oblique injury cost him more than two months. Forearm problems and a torn tendon in his hand hampered him in other seasons. No wonder, then, that with good health this season, Morrow has been eager to contribute as much as possible.
Knowles can relate. In 1972, he was an eight-year major leaguer on an Oakland team bound for the World Series when a broken thumb in late September ended his season. The next year, the A’s won a five-game American League Championship Series without using Knowles at all.
“I just wanted to get into a World Series game; everybody dreams of that,” Knowles said. “I was just thanking God I got into the first game, and I happened to get the save.”
Credit Associated Press
In that game, against the Mets, Knowles relieved closer Rollie Fingers with one out and one on in the ninth inning, protecting a 2-1 lead. The Mets had announced the left-handed Rusty Staub as a pinch-hitter against the right-handed Fingers, a future Hall of Famer. But when Oakland Manager Dick Williams called for the left-handed Knowles, the Mets’ manager, Yogi Berra, countered with a righty, Jim Beauchamp.
Knowles retired Beauchamp on an infield pop and then got the left-handed Wayne Garrett to fly out to end the game.
From there, Williams just kept calling for Knowles, who had 12 days of rest from the end of the regular season to the start of the World Series. He collected five outs in Game 2, and then faced 15 batters across the next three games at Shea Stadium.
Facing elimination at home in Game 6, Williams used Knowles to replace another future Hall of Famer, Catfish Hunter, with a 2-0 lead, one out and one on in the eighth inning. Garrett and Felix Millan singled, cutting the lead to a run, but Knowles recovered to strike out Staub.
“Yogi Berra said that was the biggest out of the series,” Knowles said. “It took giving up back-to-back hits for that to happen, so it wasn’t ideal.”
Fingers got the final four outs of Game 6, and on the morning of Game 7, Knowles learned that no pitcher had ever worked all seven games of a World Series. He knew he might have a chance to be the first, but it almost didn’t come.
Fingers entered Game 7 with one out in the sixth, and held a 5-1 lead with two outs in the ninth. But when first baseman Gene Tenace booted a grounder by Ed Kranepool, scoring a run, the left-handed Garrett came to the plate as the potential tying run. Knowles got his turn, retiring Garrett on a pop fly to short for the final out.
Video by AP Archive
“I told Dick Williams after Game 7, ‘You’re the dumbest manager I ever played for — you took out Rollie Fingers and you brought me in!’ ” Knowles said. “But he played everything by the book, and it worked out.”
Knowles and Garrett are friends now; both live in Florida, and they sometimes golf together. Every time they see each other, Knowles said, he reminds Garrett of that final out.
“I threw him three Nolan Ryan fastballs,” Knowles said, laughing. “I pitched all seven games and I think I threw only one slider all series. I was having trouble with it, so I junked it. I was not a power guy, but I had movement.”
All pitchers learn to improvise when their best weapons betray them, and Morrow tried in Game 5. Without the life on his pitches, he failed, but he vowed to be ready for the rest of the World Series — meaning he still could tie his old coach’s record.
“You just try to dig inside,” Morrow said, “and pull everything out that you’ve got.”