Morgan leads Brewers past D-backs
Nyjer Morgan did it again for Milwaukee, delivering an RBI single in the 10th inning to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-2 Friday in Game 5 and send the Brewers to the NL championship series.
Morgan hit a one-out grounder up the middle and Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz tried in vain to stop it with his leg. Carlos Gomez scored from second, sailing across home plate as a wild throw went high, and Morgan was mobbed by jubilant teammates near the mound.
The latest dramatic finish for baseball's best home team at raucous Miller Park gave Milwaukee its first victory in a postseason series since it won the AL pennant in 1982.
''We've heard all about 1982, so it's nice to start our own legacy,'' slugger Ryan Braun said.
Next, the Brewers move on to face Friday night's winner of Game 5 between St. Louis and Philadelphia. The NLCS begins Sunday, with either the Phillies or Brewers opening at home.
Arizona did all it could to extend its surprising season. Center fielder Chris Young made a jaw-dropping catch in the sixth and the Diamondbacks had one last comeback left in the ninth.
Willie Bloomquist drove in the tying run with a safety squeeze, but Arizona was unable to forge ahead against closer John Axford.
''This was a great baseball game today. I'm not happy to be on this end of it. Yet I'm proud of my team and they played true to the way they played all year,'' Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said.
''And the Brewers, they cashed in on their opportunities, what can we say? We had tons of opportunities.''
Morgan was a critical addition for the Brewers this year and had several clutch hits, winning fans along the way with his oversized personality that includes a wildman alter-ego he calls ''Tony Plush.'' But he wasn't having a particularly productive series until his big moment in the deciding game.
''He's been getting big hits all year,'' Braun said. ''He enjoys the moment.''
With a 2-1 lead and their tough 1-2 bullpen combination of Francisco Rodriguez and Axford lined up for the eighth and ninth, the Brewers appeared to have their ticket punched to the NLCS.
But the Diamondbacks had the most comeback victories in the majors this season (48) and weren't about to go away easily.
They nearly got the best of Rodriguez in the eighth. He loaded the bases with two outs for Ryan Roberts, one of two Diamondbacks players to hit a grand slam in the series. But Rodriguez got Roberts to ground into a forceout at second base, ending the threat.
Axford pitched the ninth, allowing a leadoff double to Gerardo Parra. The reliever nearly hit pinch-hitter Sean Burroughs with a pitch, then Burroughs blooped a single to put runners on first and third.
Bloomquist pushed a bunt to the right side and first baseman Prince Fielder nearly collided with Axford while fielding the ball. Fielder stumbled and was unable to get off a throw to the plate as the tying run scored.
Justin Upton grounded into a forceout at second and pinch-hitter Henry Blanco hit a grounder to shortstop. Yuniesky Betancourt fielded the ball and barely beat Upton to second base to end the inning - although Betancourt paid for it, getting spiked in the left leg.
Axford ended the regular season with 43 straight saves, and saved Game 1 of the series. He had not blown a save chance since April 18 at Philadelphia.
Axford got the win despite a rough outing. Putz took the loss.
''We've had great comebacks all year. Unfortunately tonight, we weren't able to finish it off,'' Gibson said.
After finally edging Arizona, the Brewers sprayed bubbly in the clubhouse and waited to find out who their next opponent would be. If the Cardinals win Game 5, the first game of the NL championship series would be Sunday at Miller Park. If the Phillies win, Game 1 would be at Philadelphia.
Arizona rallied from a two-game deficit in the series to force a Game 5, yet another comeback for a team that had the most come-from-behind victories in baseball during the season.
Justin Upton's solo homer gave the Diamondbacks the lead in the third inning.
The Brewers tied the game in the fourth, on a sacrifice fly by Jerry Hairston Jr. that brought home Morgan - but Diamondbacks ace Ian Kennedy limited the damage to one run after loading the bases with one out.
Braun led off the sixth with a double off Kennedy, and Fielder walked on four pitches. But Rickie Weeks popped up an attempted sacrifice bunt, back to Kennedy for the out. Young then made a potential game-saving, over-the-shoulder catch of a warning track-length line drive from Hairston, prompting him to put both hands on his helmet in disbelief after what he was sure was going to be an extra-base hit.
Betancourt singled to center on the next play, scoring Braun to give Milwaukee a 2-1 lead.
Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo gave up one run despite laboring through six innings without his best stuff. The right-hander threw 112 pitches, allowing six hits while walking two and striking out five.
Gallardo was outstanding in his last three starts of the regular season and just as good in the Brewers' Game 1 victory. But his command looked a little off from the start Friday.
In the first inning, he allowed a two-out walk to Upton, who advanced to second on a wild pitch. Gallardo then ran the count to 3-2 on Miguel Montero before striking him out and getting out of the inning.
Gallardo got in some trouble again in the second, allowing a pair of baserunners, but he was bailed out on a nice defensive play by Braun despite difficult sun glare.
Gallardo then cruised through the first two outs of the third, then went 3-2 on Upton after he took a borderline pitch. Upton then smacked a solo home run to right, pointing to the sky as he took off running.
Trailing 1-0, the Brewers finally put together an offensive threat in the fourth.
Morgan then led off with a double. With Braun at the plate, Kennedy unleashed a wild pitch in the dirt, allowing Morgan to go to third. Braun then had to duck out of the way at a high-and-tight, 93 mph fastball, then took a walk on the following pitch. Fielder popped out, but Kennedy - whose control had been stellar through the first three innings - hit Weeks in the left side with a pitch to load the bases with one out.
Hairston then popped up down the right-field line, and second baseman Aaron Hill made an over-the-shoulder catch. But the ball was deep enough for Morgan to come home as the throw went wide, and the Brewers tied the game at 1.
NOTES: Despite 78-degree temperatures and sunny conditions at game time, the retractable roof to Miller Park was closed. Both managers said before the game that they didn't care whether the roof was open or closed, although Milwaukee's Ron Roenicke said he didn't mind having similar conditions to the previous games in the series. ... Morgan smashed his bat on the ground and broke it over his knee after popping out to end the fifth. ... Attendance was 44,028, a sellout.