Morgan helps Pirates steal win
Outfielder's catch paves way to Bautista homer, victory
HOUSTON -- When Nyjer Morgan made a full-extension, diving catch in center field last Sunday, he left his teammates using phrases like "probably the best here all season" and words like "unbelievable" and "amazing."
Just five days later, on Friday, the center fielder took away the "probably" and added a slew of new adjectives, with a third-inning defensive play that undoubtedly ranks among the best -- if not the best -- in baseball all season.
Oh, and not to mention, the catch ultimately proved to be the difference in the Pirates' 4-3 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
"We thought the kid in center field made a [heck] of a play in center field in Pittsburgh, but this may be as good as you can witness," manager Jim Tracy said. "I don't know how he caught the ball."
Manning one of baseball's largest outfields with arguably baseball's oddest obstacle -- Tal's Hill -- Morgan made a catch that had Tracy and his teammates making comparisons to Willie Mays' famous over-the-shoulder grab in the 1954 World Series.
"I don't know how you describe it," Tracy said afterward. "Willie Mays made one at the Polo Grounds. As I recall, the film clip that I've seen a million times, Willie was two or three steps from the warning track. This kid was face first into the bullpen fence."
It had starter Ian Snell pumping his fist on the mound, smiling while waiting for Morgan in front of the dugout to high-five him and later searching for words vivid enough to grasp what he had just witnessed.
"He always tells the pitchers when he comes in, 'I've got your back. I've got your back out there. Don't worry.'" Snell later said. "He's like a spark plug."
And it left the Astros yet again on the wrong end of a fantastic play, which could be a good synopsis of how their season has gone.
"The ball [Ty] Wigginton hit tonight had three-run double or triple all over it and the guy makes a circus catch out in center field," said Lance Berkman, who was on second when the ball was hit. "That ball is hit 420 feet and is a home run in 99 percent of the parks in the Major Leagues [and] is a grand slam."
Fortunately, Morgan, a September callup, didn't have to mess with the hill to make his catch. But that made the grab no less jaw-dropping and no less crucial, as it preserved a one-run Pittsburgh lead at the time.
Like Sunday's catch, this one came with two out in the third. But the bases were loaded this time as Wigginton drove a 1-0 pitch from Snell deep into center.
It'd be best to let Morgan tell the story from here:
"I had a good eye on it," Morgan started. "I was peeping it out. I had to stay down before I hit the turnbuckle."
The "turnbuckle" Morgan was referring to was the center-field bullpen fence and the "it" was the ball. With no regard for his body, Morgan raced back, and to his right, full speed.
"Just running, running, peek," Morgan continued. "I took a peek at the wall while I was still running, even though the ball was still bouncing on me. I took that peek."
That peek came over his right shoulder, the ball still drifting. Morgan passed the division mark between the outfield grass and the warning track.
"I was right on the wall," Morgan said, continuing the tale. "I was right on there, less than a foot."
Somehow claiming that he had his eye on the ball and the wall, Morgan, with his back to the infield, his face inches from the wall, put up his glove and made the catch. And he did so without ever colliding into the wall.
"But, I knew the wall was up on me, and I was just trying to brace it," said the center fielder. "I smoked the turnbuckle. I caught it with my eye. I didn't face plant. I was right on it."
The roar from the crowd of 35,352 fans gave way to hushed amazement at what they just saw. Right fielder Steve Pearce ran over to congratulate a euphoric Morgan. Wigginton stood near first base with a look of disbelief.
That one-run lead would hold until the sixth, when the see-saw battle began. The Pirates and Astros, who came into the game having already played six one-run games, would make it seven by the time Matt Capps sealed his 17th save of the season by inducing a game-ending double play.
Snell battled all evening, scattering five hits and five walks in six innings of work, though he managed to limit the damage to just one sixth-inning run.
"Ian Snell, matching Oswalt the way he did," Tracy said, " [It] may be his best performance of the second half of the season."
The Astros briefly took the lead when Berkman smoked a pitch from Damaso Marte over the left-field wall to give Houston a 2-1 lead. It marked just the fifth of Berkman's 30 homers that have come hitting right-handed.
But after Oswalt, who limited the Pirates to just one unearned run in seven innings, exited, the Pirates snapped Houston's streak of 16 scoreless relief innings with three runs off reliever Chad Qualls.
The big blow came off of Jose Bautista's bat, when the Pirates third baseman sent a 2-1 offering from Qualls off the left-field foul pole for a two-run homer. Pittsburgh later added an insurance run on a Ronny Paulino RBI single, before the inning ended, which proved to be crucial when the Astros nicked one of their own off Shawn Chacon in the bottom half of the inning.
"Obviously, you need some baserunners and you need some big at-bats in a game like this one, but you've got to go beyond that," Tracy began.
There was no need to finish. It was no secret what the key was by the time this one was over. And truthfully, words couldn't do it justice.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.