From Tony Plush to Tony Legend
Effusive Nyjer Morgan sends Milwaukee into the NLCS and himself into Brewers lore
MILWAUKEE -- Nyjer Morgan stood in the middle of the plastic sheet-encased Milwaukee Brewers clubhouse, his jersey soaked in champagne and sparkling cider, his eyes red from the tears and bubbly, and he began yelling.
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"We're not done yet!'' Morgan said. "We're not f---ing done yet!''
And then he was gone, bouncing from one champagne spray to another, from one bear hug to the next, from a beer bath to a quick postgame interview with the Brewers' radio crew.
"We're going to the championship, baby!'' he screamed into the headset microphone.
The Brewers are going to their first league championship series since 1982 because of Morgan, or his alter ego "Tony Plush," or -- what did star left fielder Ryan Braun call him afterward? -- "Tony Clutch." Whoever it was, his one-hop RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning gave Milwaukee a 3-2 victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday evening at Miller Park.
It figures that the video screen just beyond the left-field warning track flashed, "Legends Are Born In October," not long before Morgan arrived at the plate with one out and Carlos Gomez on first. Gomez stole second, and then, on a 2-2 pitch from Arizona reliever J.J. Putz, Morgan drilled a single off the mound and into center field for the game winner. Putz tried a kick save and Chris Young tried to nail Gomez at home, but the throw was Shaquille O'Neal high and too late to matter.
Down came the confetti. Up went the fireworks. Pop went the champagne corks. Three hours and 41 minutes of postseason baseball drama had produced a classic.
"It's not supposed to be easy,'' Braun said.
It wasn't. The Brewers had a 2-0 series lead, lost the next two on the road and then grinded their way to the extra-inning clincher at The Keg.
How long has it been for this franchise? Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were still playing. The Brewers were in the American League, not the National. Morgan was 2.
But here they are, in the National League Championship Series because of Braun, likely free agent-to-be Prince Fielder, flatliner of a manager Ron Roenicke, closer John Axford, starters Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke, and, well, where do you stop? But nobody on this roster is more compelling, interesting and bizarre than center fielder Morgan.
"No, nobody's like him,'' third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. said. "I know sometimes he's a little bit exuberant, but he's really sparked this team.''
Sparked it? He ignited it. He's the C-4 of ballplayers.
Trying to get him to stop for a postgame interview was like trying to catch a bumblebee with your teeth.
"I got to go, man,'' Morgan said, darting away. "I'm missing the party.''
He wore a Tony Plush helmet. When Braun brought a huge stuffed Sulley doll (of "Monsters, Inc.'' fame) into the clubhouse, Morgan was the first to douse it with champagne.
He walked around by himself. It was as if he couldn't believe what had just happened, and what he had just done.
Morgan entered the game with just one hit in 11 at-bats in the NL Division Series. He sat on the bench for Game 4 in Arizona. On Friday, he was 1-for-4 when he stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the 10th.
Now he's a Brewers legend -- the guy who singled the Brewers into the NLCS.
After pinging from one side of the clubhouse to the next, Morgan dropped to the carpeted floor and sat down. He was a man exhausted.
"My grandfather, man,'' he said. "I wish he were here to see us.''
His grandfather's name was Frank Morgan. He died in May, two months after Nyjer was acquired from the Washington Nationals for infielder Cutter Dykstra and "cash considerations.'' Frank was the only other one in the family who ever played the game.
"I'll pour one out for him,'' said Nyjer, who turned his beer can upside down and watched the foamy stuff soak into the carpet.
He didn't remember much about the final at-bat. At least, not at first. Gomez stole second on a 1-1 count. Morgan fouled off the next pitch, took a ball to even the count, and then drove a fastball past Putz and into center. Game over.
Someone asked him later about his struggles during the series. Morgan feigned amnesia.
"What struggles?'' he said. "It's baseball, man.''
Don't kid yourself. Morgan knew he was scuffling. He doubled in his second at-bat Friday, but he also snapped a bat over his knee after a pop-up to first for the third out in the fifth inning. And he struck out in the seventh, the bat sailing down the first-base line and past the Brewers' dugout.
So when he began to explain his emotions after the win, the real Morgan appeared.
"Basically, it's just everything I've had to overcome,'' he said. "Just the stuff that people go out there and perceive about me. All my haters, I just want to show them that I can play this game. Even though I've got a fun, bubbly personality and everything like that, I still come to win and I'm a winner.''
The D-backs made the Brewers earn every bit of the win. Manager Kirk Gibson's audacious suicide squeeze call in the top of the ninth tied the score at 2-all. Who knew how long this thing would go on?
Instead, Morgan ended it with his no-doubter single. Then he F-bombed America on national television, returned to the clubhouse and began his personal party. His plans?
"I'll just go home, take a bath, chill and watch the game,'' he said, straight faced. And then
"I can't tell you, player.''
Fair enough. Morgan and the Brewers deserve the celebration. After all, it was 29 years in the making.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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