If you decided to turn off last night’s Nationals game when they went down 10-3 after just three innings, I wouldn’t blame you in the slightest. However, it turned out to be one of the craziest games the Nationals have ever played, featuring multiple plunkings by the Marlins’ pitching staff, a bench-clearing brawl, and six ejections drawn out over 9 innings. By the end of the seventh inning last night, both managers were sent to the showers, along with four of their players. It was the sort of game that had a performance art feel to it, as if you were just waiting to see what might happen next.
As with many games, the story began the previous night. Late in the game, the score knotted at zero, Nyjer Morgan charged around third on a fielder’s choice and wrecked Marlins catcher Brett Hayes. Morgan could’ve slid, the back of the plate was free, but he made the decision to level Brett Hayes instead. Hayes would be diagnosed with a separated shoulder, and will be out the rest of the season. It would be the second time in a week that Morgan would let his hockey experience be his guide, as late last week he plowed Cardinals’ catcher Bryan Anderson and spent a day on the bench for his trouble.
Jim Riggleman kept Nyjer in the lineup last night, and both knew that Nyjer was in for some medicine. The Marlins’ Chris Volstad let him go without incident during his at-bat in the first, and again in the second. Volstad would hit catcher Wil Nieves and shortstop Alberto Gonzalez in the second and third, but he was just getting warm. In the fourth, it was Nyjer’s turn to take his medicine, and he’d get a fastball in the ribs with Brett Hayes’ name on it. Nyjer trotted to first.
If that had happened in the first inning, I’m guessing that’s where it would have ended. Instead, coming mid-game, and in a bit of a blowout, Nyjer decided that it was his turn to run. He stole second. And third. With Rickey Henderson head-first slides. If last night’s game was a wheelbarrow full of gunpowder barrels, Nyjer Morgan was the crazy careless guy with a lit cigarette and a death wish.
When he came back around in the top of the sixth, Volstad put a fastball right behind Nyjer Morgan, and the rest is history. Morgan would take one step to first and then decide that he had enough, and ran right for Volstad. Morgan got one flying punch in before getting clotheslined WWF-style by first baseman Gaby Sanchez.
Nyjer’s having a rough month or so, between a fan incident in Philadelphia in August that has him facing a 7-game suspension, and the physical play-style reminiscent of the Hansen brothers, I’m fairly sure that Nyjer’s in for a bad time when he goes to New York to meet with MLB on the 7th. Do you suppose they’ll save him a trip and let him have back to back appointments to talk about last night’s brawl, as well?
Here’s the thing. The Nationals need fire. Nyjer Morgan plays baseball like his hair’s on fire. Sometimes, that’s a great thing, and I applaud him for taking 2nd and 3rd and trying to get the Nationals back into a 14-3 ballgame. There were points after that last night where it was not entirely inconceivable that the Nationals could win that ballgame. I think Steve Repsher said it best on Twitter: “There’s no mercy rule in baseball. Down 10? Try to be down 5.” But the charging the mound last night wasn’t where this story ends, and the heel turn that came after was something straight out of a cable wrestling show. Being dragged off the field, Nyjer threw up his hands and yelled back at the taunting Marlins fans (yes, all six of them), and I was practically expecting him to do an X-Pac-esque pelvic thrusting taunt thereafter. That, moment, more than anything else that happened last night, Tuesday night, or last week, is what’s going to get Morgan in trouble.
You want passionate baseball played for your team, and last night we saw both the good side of that, and the bad. Major League Baseball has a tough decision to make regarding Nyjer Morgan, and the last few days have only made that decision a lot harder, but there’s part of me that says I’d rather see a Morgan who played with fire than one that is cowed by the league. That said, the league can’t have Morgan behaving like he has with fans. That’s got to change. Keep that fire, Nyjer, but you have to play like there’s nothing beyond the foul lines. That, more than anything else, is why Nyjer Morgan is being made into a goon. Keep that fire professional, and you’ve got a winning player. Let it slip over the boundaries, and you’ve got something for everyone to point at and scold.