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PIT@CIN: Morton goes the distance for the win

CINCINNATI -- Together, a revamped lineup and a renewed Charlie Morton put a halt to the Pirates' four-game losing streak. But after a 6-1 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park on Friday, it was hardly in question which performance was most worthy of note.

"It was," as manager Clint Hurdle said, "Charlie's night."

Back in a place and on a mound that Morton vividly remembers for all the wrong reasons, the right-hander continued to discard his past. Sinker after sinker, zero after zero, this was a completely different Morton than the one who left this ballpark empty nearly a year ago.

It was after his May 27, 2010, start -- an 8-2 loss to the Reds -- that Morton was called into the manager's office and given his options. Staying in the big league rotation was not one of them, as it was obvious that Morton was not, at that moment, a Major League pitcher.

His ERA had ballooned to 9.35 after lasting only two innings in a start against the Reds. The loss column read nine. Indeed, it was a crossroads, a pivotal moment in the right-hander's career.

"It was a day that I will remember forever," a reflective Morton said after his start on Friday. "That was not my last memory of this place, but that was one of those days that sticks with you."

This night should, too -- for all the different reasons.

No better a stage was there for Morton to continue showcasing his renaissance than the one on which it had once all spiraled out of control. The same Cincinnati team that led to his departure from the Majors early last season was nearly helpless against Morton on Friday.

"He's a completely different pitcher now," Reds outfielder Jay Bruce said. "That's not bashing him before, but tonight he really had a plan and he executed."

Pitching his second career complete game, Morton didn't allow a run until Bruce knocked a homer with two outs in the ninth. But not that, not the crummy weather conditions, not anything, could spoil this night.

"There's a lot of road in front of us, but he has been a focused young man from the first game that he pitched in Spring Training until now," Hurdle said. "Any time he doubts himself, all he needs to do is take a tape and look at this ballgame."

The tape will show tremendous efficiency and aggressiveness, evidenced by the fact that Morton threw 81 of his 110 pitches for strikes. He did it, too, mostly with his sinker. There were a few picture-perfect breaking balls thrown in for good measure, but Morton hardly needed to turn from his fastball.

"He's gaining confidence with it," catcher Chris Snyder said of the sinker. "You mix in a plus-plus pitch with confidence in using it often, you're going to get what you got tonight. You saw glimpses of it toward the end of last year. Right now, everything has come together for him."

"I'm no pitching coach, but watching him today from second base and seeing him continue to do the same thing over and over again and being successful doing it, that just tells you how good his stuff really is," added second baseman Neil Walker. "I know this was a great, great confidence day for him, too."

In between his last start and this one, Morton also worked out some mechanical tweaks that kept his body more direct toward the plate. That goes to explain how the right-hander went from walking 10 in his first two outings to issuing only two free passes in this one.

The arm-angle adjustment made during the middle of Spring Training appears to have added both movement and deception to Morton's pitches. Again, the sinker has particularly benefited from the change.

"They're not seeing it the same as they were," said Morton, who threw a first-pitch strike to 23 of the 34 hitters he faced. "When I'm getting outs like that, I'm more confident, more aggressive. Better results."

After having to wait until Sept. 22 to collect win No. 2 last year, Morton has reached the threshold 13 games into the 2011 season.

"You have to tip your cap to Morton," Reds starter Bronson Arroyo said. "That was probably the best game we've seen all year, especially coming from a guy we beat around the park pretty good last year."

Arroyo was the one being knocked around this time and by an offense that went from punchless to productive as soon as it departed Pittsburgh. Hoping to find the needed spark, Hurdle put out a lineup card that featured all sorts of flip-flopping near the top of the order.

And whether it was a direct correlation or some part coincidence, the Pirates' offense responded.

It only took three innings for the Pirates to tally more hits (nine) than they had accumulated in their previous 23 innings. Pittsburgh scored five runs off Arroyo in the process.

"It was time for one of those breakout nights," Snyder said. "And we did that."

Garrett Jones started things with a solo homer in the second. Singles by Snyder and Lyle Overbay -- who both reached base three times -- pushed across two more runs. Walker, making his first start in the cleanup spot, capped the scoring against Arroyo with a two-run blast in the fourth.

Hurdle's goal of getting more runners on base for the middle of the lineup was emphatically achieved. In addition to Overbay's hot night, Jose Tabata finished with four hits batting from the second spot in the order.

The club collected 15 hits -- one shy of its season high -- in all, while moving to 5-2 on the road.

"I think we got into a spot there near the end of the [last] series where we were pressing and we thought we had to win," Walker said. "That makes it tough when you're going up there and gripping the bat a little tighter. We definitely relaxed today and we stuck with our game plan." Comments