The St. Louis Cardinals expected big things from Matt Morris when they selected the 6’5″ right-hander with the 12th overall pick of the June 1995 free agent draft. When he reached the majors in 1997, Morris didn’t disappoint, winning 12 games and leading all rookie hurlers with a 3.19 ERA and 149 strikeouts. A shoulder injury limited him to one start before the All Star break the following season, but his brilliant second half (2.53 ERA in 17 starts overall) convinced the Cardinals that they had found their new ace. Unfortunately for St. Louis and Morris, the future would take longer to arrive than they had anticipated.
Slated to front the club’s starting rotation in 1999, Morris missed the entire season after tearing ligaments in his right elbow during spring training. Following “Tommy John” surgery (a tendon from his right hand was transplanted to his elbow) and a year of rehab, Morris was back at spring training the following year. Rather than subject him to the strain and risk of a full season in the starting rotation, St. Louis elected to use him out of the bullpen so he could work his way back into form. In 31 appearances he won three games and saved four others, playing a key role on a deep Cardinals staff that led the club to the NL Central title.
At full strength in 2001, Morris fulfilled his early career promise. Restored to the starting rotation, he dominated hitters with a mid-90s four-seam fastball, a sinking two-seamer, straight changeup and a biting overhand curve. In July he earned his first All Star selection, and on September 19, 2001 at Busch Stadium he allowed one run in seven innings while fanning 13 Milwaukee Brewers to win his 20th game of the season.