'It was one of the best': Relive Nyjer's walk-off

April 12th, 2020

MILWAUKEE -- “It was one of the best,” Bob Uecker said, “because it’s , first of all, getting the base hit. And then flying down the line around third.”

The two were similar, as Uecker saw it.

“Boundless energy,” he said. “But they would fight you in a minute.”

“It’s the highlight of my life,” Morgan said this week on Milwaukee’s ESPN Radio affiliate of his walk-off in Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series. “It was one of the most exciting times. Everything slowed down in that moment. I wanted to do something special in that time, especially with the city of Milwaukee on my shoulders.

“It was one of those things where it had to be done. I was glad I was able to be in that moment and make some memories for myself and the 414 [area code].”

The Brewers had invested a lot in the 2011 season via trades for starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, who fortified a rotation that already included Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf. With a stout relief corps headlined by John Axford and Francisco Rodríguez, it was a championship-caliber pitching staff to complement an offense led by All-Stars Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks that led the NL in home runs that season.

Morgan was the final piece of then-GM Doug Melvin’s puzzle. The Brewers got Morgan days before the season opener via a trade with the Nationals for Minor Leaguer Cutter Dykstra. Morgan fit right in on a team that adopted a “Beast Mode” mentality led by Fielder, their fiery first baseman in his final season before free agency. After big hits, players turned toward the dugout, threw their arms in the air and screamed.

Morgan might have been the most demonstrable of all. He batted .304 that year during the regular season.

"The opponents didn't like him,” Gómez once said with a big grin. "But he was a really good guy to be around every day. Energizing, positive. When you're on the other side, it's like, 'Oh, look at that guy.'"

Does Gómez know anyone else like that?

"Like me?" he said, laughing.

So perhaps it was fitting when the Gómez-Morgan duo combined to make magic in the bottom of the 10th inning on Oct. 7, 2011. After a 96-win regular season under manager Ron Roenicke, the Brewers had taken a 2-0 lead over the D-backs in the best-of-five NLDS at Miller Park, only to drop both games at Chase Field to force a decisive Game 5 back in Milwaukee, the first such game at home for the Brewers since they beat the California Angels in Game 5 of the 1982 American League Championship Series on Cecil Cooper’s two-run single in the seventh inning.

This game was similarly dramatic. Gallardo and Arizona’s Ian Kennedy started in a pitchers' duel that led to a 2-1 Brewers lead in the ninth inning with lights-out closer Axford on the mound. The Brewers were 81-1 during the regular season when leading after eight innings, including 81 wins in a row.

But Gerardo Parra’s leadoff double started a rally that led to a 2-2 tie on Willie Bloomquist’s bunt base hit, forcing an extra inning. Axford rebounded to pitch a scoreless 10th, giving the Brewers another opportunity to seal their first postseason series victory since 1982.

Gómez and Morgan had platooned in center field for much of that season before Morgan became the regular with Gómez down six weeks because of a broken collarbone. Gómez only had four at-bats in that NLDS, but he made the most of them, collecting three hits, including his one-out single off D-backs closer J.J. Putz in the 10th inning of Game 5. The whole stadium knew Gómez was going to steal second base, and he pulled it off anyway, putting the winning run in scoring position for Morgan.

It had been a grind of a series for the Brewers’ spark plug, who was 2-for-15 in the NLDS as he dug into the batter’s box. Five innings earlier, Morgan snapped his bat over his knee after a popout. An inning after that, he misplayed a line drive.

“I remember him sitting on the bench with his head down,” said Martín Maldonado, a rookie catcher who was with the team throughout that postseason but was not active. “I was sitting right there. Gómez walked by and said, ‘Buddy, put your head up. You’re going to be part of us winning this game.’

“Two innings later -- boom.”

“Boom” might be a bit strong. Morgan instead “tickled” a base hit -- his word -- right up the middle. Gomez raced home with the winning run. For the first time in 29 years, since Cooper willed a go-ahead single to the ground and Robin Yount converted Rod Carew’s grounder into an out, the Brewers had triumphed in a postseason series.

“One man’s trash is another’s treasure!” Morgan bellowed, dancing around the clubhouse wearing the same S.W.A.T. Team helmet he donned when the club clinched the division. That was his nickname -- the S.W.A.T. Team -- for the Brewers’ high-powered offense.

“Do you know why I watch that video so much?” Gómez said. “I see Mark Attanasio jumping on the field. The owner. And he grabbed me, he weighs 180 pounds, maybe. Probably less. He picked me up and jumped with me, weighing 220. That’s a moment I never will forget.”

It’s a moment etched into franchise history.

"I didn't realize the magnitude at the time," Morgan said. "I was young. Now that I'm older, I understand how the situation played out. … It didn't really hit me until everything was over. Now I can look it up and see it, and it still gives me chills."