10/07/11 11:55 PM ET
Performer of the game: Brewers' Morgan
Outfielder sends Crew to NLCS with walk-off single in 10th
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
Then Morgan collapsed to the floor, overcome with a mix of exhaustion and joy.
Only a few moments earlier, Morgan sent a fastball from closer J.J. Putz bouncing into center field for the decisive blow in Milwaukee's 3-2, 10-inning victory over the D-backs in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. Confetti fell, fireworks exploded and Miller Park rocked in the wake of Morgan's heroics.
"Nyjer got the biggest hit of his life," Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. "One of the biggest hits in Brewers history."
That is because Milwaukee has not had a similar hit in nearly three decades.
Spin to Win
Morgan's base hit propeled the Brewers to their first postseason series win since 1982, when Cecil Cooper's two-run single in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series defeated the Angels and sent Milwaukee to its only World Series appearance. Morgan was only 2 years old at the time.
The Brewers now sit four wins shy of another trip to the Fall Classic. First, though, Milwaukee is tasked with taking on the Cardinals in a best-of-seven NLCS, beginning at 3 p.m. CT on Sunday.
After jumping into the mob of his Milwaukee teammates on the field on Friday, Morgan headed into the clubhouse to retrieve his S.W.A.T. helmet. Champagne dripped from its edges as he stood wide-eyed, still in shock, trying to come up with some answers for the wave of questions sent his way.
Morgan -- as high-energy an individual as they come -- was asked how he calms himself down.
"I can't," he said before running away while shouting his signature catchphrase. "Ahh. Gotta go!"
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke knew it was best to give Morgan a chance to collect himself.
"Nyjer can't talk right now, he's emotional," Roenicke said with a smile. "He's just -- he's a joy to have."
The Brewers landed Morgan in a trade with the Nationals toward the end of Spring Training. As the season wore on, the center fielder earned more and more playing time. He became a source of energy for Milwaukee's fun-loving squad and a catalyst for the team's sluggers with his play out of the second spot of the lineup.
Morgan slumped some in this Division Series -- the outfielder was only 1-for-11 going into the fifth game -- but his teammates held out faith that he would deliver when it mattered most.
"He's been our sparkplug all year," Brewers third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. said. "I told him, 'Hey, you're going to do something special for us.' He did it."
Morgan's first contribution on this night was a leadoff double in the fourth inning against D-backs starter Ian Kennedy, an NL Cy Young Award contender coming off a 21-win campaign. Morgan promptly advanced to third base on a wild pitch before scoring on a sacrifice fly by Hairston to pull the game into a 1-1 tie.
Milwaukee held a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning, but closer John Axford surrended a run to knot the score once again, snapping a streak of 44 consecutive saves. In the home half of the 10th inning, Morgan was due up third, following veteran Craig Counsell and outfielder Carlos Gomez.
Mark Attanasio, the Brewers' owner, felt confident with how things were lining up.
"I liked having Counsell and Go-Go and Nyjer," Attanasio said. "Tony Plush, I guess we should say."
Yes, Tony Plush.
After all, that is the stage name Morgan has adopted while on the field.
That was who stepped into the batter's box after Gomez reached with a one-out single.
"That was T. Plush, man," Morgan said. "That was T. Plush all the way."
During Morgan's at-bat, Gomez stole second base to put the winning run 180 feet from home plate. Morgan worked into a 2-2 count before Putz unleashed the 94-mph fastball that added a new chapter to Milwaukee's history book.
"I was looking for something up," Morgan said. "And I had to calm my nerves down. So just slow my whole mind down."
Morgan drilled the pitch back up the middle.
"I just tickled it into the outfield," Morgan said.
Center fielder Chris Young had little chance of throwing Gomez out at the plate.
"Nobody's throwing out Carlos Gomez in that situation," Braun said. "Nobody. I don't care who's in center field."
Gomez slid in safely, and the Brewers poured out of the dugout and partied on the field.
Morgan was right in the middle of things as usual.
"Tony Clutch," Attanasio said with a grin.
As he tried to grasp what had just taken place, Morgan was asked if the helmet atop his head symbolized the Brewers' toughness.
"There you go," Morgan said. "It's a blue-collar town. We're blue-collar kids getting after it. Getting it done."