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Former Sox target Charlie Morton could be a road map for a Garrett Richards resurgence

Charlie Morton got away from Boston this summer, and shut down the Sox bats Tuesday.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

That free agent righthander Charlie Morton would be a great fit for the Red Sox seemed obvious after the Tampa Bay Rays declined his $15 million option a few days after the World Series.

Morton had a strong relationship with Sox manager Alex Cora dating back to their time with the 2017 Astros and was friendly with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, who had been with the Rays.

Morton was the reliable No. 2 starter the Sox needed.

But the Atlanta Braves made Morton a priority and signed him to a one-year, $15 million deal on Nov. 24.

Morton wanted to play for a contending team fairly close to his home in Sarasota, Fla., significant factors in the decision.

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The Red Sox got a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been last night when they faced Charlie Morton.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

“There’s no denying that we actually showed interest in Charlie,” Cora said. “He’s been one of the best since 2017. The way he pitched in Houston and obviously what he did with the Rays, everybody knows.

“The way he competes, the person, and the way he cares about his teammates and the organization that he plays for is up there. It’s a guy I really respect, I really like.”

Bloom and Cora recruited Morton, but the Braves had more advantages.

“I understand why he made the decision, but we moved on,” Cora said.

The Sox instead signed Garrett Richards, who was five years younger, $5 million cheaper, but far less accomplished.

Richards also agreed to a $10 million option for 2022 that the Sox envisioned as being a possible bargain if he fulfilled what was seen as considerable potential.

The off-season calculations were put to a test at Fenway Park on Tuesday night when the Sox played the Braves and Richards faced Morton.

Morton was the pitcher the Sox has come to admire, allowing one unearned run on three hits over seven innings. The 37-year-old walked two, struck out nine, and retired the final 13 batters he faced in order in a game the Braves won, 3-1.

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“He blows me away,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “The stuff has been so good.”

Morton, who averaged 95.1 mph with his fastball, left two runners stranded in the first inning. Danny Santana then opened the bottom of the second inning with a triple down the line in right before Hunter Renfroe walked.

Charlie Morton allowed just three hits in seven innings Tuesday against the Red Sox.Adam Glanzman/Getty

Morton struck out Bobby Dalbec on three pitches, the third a curveball well off the plate. Then Kiké Hernández grounded a fastball to second for a double play.

“That could have gone bad real quick,” Morton said.

From there he mixed five pitches in a way that befuddled the Sox, never falling into any predictable pattern.

Richards went 5 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits and four walks. He struck out only four and threw an unnerving number of pitches that catcher Christian Vázquez had trouble getting his mitt on.

Morton understands what that’s like. He was a career underachiever before the Astros helped him gain better command of his curveball and more consistent velocity with his fastball.

Morton is 50-20 with a 3.41 earned run average and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings since 2017.

Cora believes Richards can follow that map.

“I think where Garrett is in his career right now is very similar to where Charlie was in 2017,” Cora said. “Hopefully it turns into something special like that.”

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Cora and Morton formed a friendship early in 2017. They had shared sensibilities about baseball and digging into topics like defensive shifts.

“We clicked right away,” Cora said. “He did some amazing things that year … he’s such a good guy.”

Alex Cora had nothing but good things to say about Charlie Morton, even before he shut down the Sox Tuesday night.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The championship the Astros won that season was later stained by the revelations of how they stole signs from opposing catchers.

But it couldn’t detract from how Morton pitched the final four innings of Game 7 of the World Series in Los Angeles, holding the Dodgers to one run.

Morton attended games at Fenway growing up and loves the tradition that comes with playing in Boston. He said his secret desire Tuesday was to be warming up for the eighth inning while “Sweet Caroline” was playing.

He only missed it by an inning.

“This is a special place for me and a special place for baseball,” Morton said.

That’s what made his decision so tough.

“Knowing Alex, having a chance to speak with some of the guys over there, getting a chance to play in this park, put on that uniform, all those things were very enticing,” Morton said.

Before the game, Cora said there have been certain times this season he watched Morton pitch and wished he had decided to join the Sox.

By the end of the night, that was definitely the case.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.