Matt Morris yesterday left the Pirates -- or did he?
"One of the best in the game," first baseman Adam LaRoche said a few minutes after the Pirates officially released the right-hander. "That's what everybody who played with him and everybody who played against him say.
"He's made that impact on people. People love him and respect him. There are only a few out there who have that kind of impact."
"I love him," starter Ian Snell said. "I'm thankful for him. He was always showing us how to be big league pitchers. He'd talk about baseball -- and life. I give him a lot of credit for dealing with young pitchers who were immature. He helped us mature."
Perhaps those lessons Morris taught and the impact Morris had will live on. And never mind that the final stat line of his career was the ugly 1 2/3 innings he labored through against Philadelphia Saturday night.
Or that his 2008 record will be no wins, four losses and a 9.67 earned run average.
"This is not the defining moment for Matt Morris," Pirates manager John Russell said. "I'm not going to remember him that way -- and nobody in that clubhouse will remember him that way."
Left-hander Phil Dumatrait, who pitched four innings in relief of Morris Saturday night, will take his spot in the rotation and start in Washington Thursday night.
The Pirates yesterday called up right-hander John Van Benschoten from Class AAA Indianapolis to provide depth in the bullpen for at least the short term.
The Pirates owe Morris, 33, a little more than $10 million, which includes the rest of his 2008 salary and the $1 million contract buyout he had for 2009.
"The Pirates' decision to release Matt Morris was a difficult one, but not because of the financial implications of that decision," Pirate president Frank Coonelly said. "We will not avoid making the changes necessary to return the Pirates to a championship caliber club because of monetary considerations.
"Matt is the consummate professional, a very good teammate and a proud man. Matt has worked extremely hard to help the Pirates win, both by his own work on the field and by the valuable counsel and support he provided to his teammates. That is what made informing Matt of his release difficult."
The Pirates acquired Morris -- and his contract -- from the San Francisco Giants July 31 for outfielder Rajai Davis and minor league pitcher Stephen MacFarland. That move, Coonelly said yesterday, "did not turn out to be a sound baseball judgment."
Morris was 7-3 with a 2.56 earned run average in his first 13 starts for the Giants last season, but his numbers began to fall off prior to the trade.
Those numbers continued to track downward after he came to the Pirates. He was 3-4 with 6.10 earned run average in his 11 starts for them last season.
He struggled in spring training and struggled through most of his 22 1/3 innings this season.
"I could feel it all coming to an end," Morris said. "It's not what I planned, but it's best for the organization. It's best for the team. I've been a burden on the bullpen. It's been hard to deal with mentally.
"It's tough when you're out there competing and giving 100 percent and just not able to do it at this point. I accepted it. Being here was a great segment in my life, but I really can't wait to move on and be with my family. It's a sad day, but it's also a joyful day."
Does he think when he looks back he'll realize he had a pretty decent 12-year major league career which included 121 victories?
"I don't think that will be today or tomorrow," Morris said. "Those things kind of soak in later on, but I am proud of my career. I didn't mean for or want it to end this way, but I always said the other team will let you know when you're done.
"The outings I've had and some of the fan appreciation has not been so great, but it's all part of it and it's time to move on."
Morris did not officially retire yesterday, but it's highly doubtful he'll pitch again.
Did he think when he walked off the mound in the second inning Saturday night that his morning yesterday would turn out as it did?
Morris paused a long while before answering.
"That's a tough one," he said. "I knew it was close. It wasn't far off. I wish I could have gone off with more dignity and [held] my head high. But when you're battling and [throwing 49] pitches to get three outs [in the first inning], it's difficult."
So what's next?
"I'm going to go home and just figure things out and start my life," Morris said.
First Published April 28, 2008 4:00 AM