Nate McLouth avoids a batted ball hit by Ryan Doumit in the third inning yesterday in Cincinnati. McLouth had a big day with two hits, two runs scored and three RBIs.
By Chuck Finder Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CINCINNATI -- The stats don't tell his story. Sure, Nyjer Morgan went 3 for 4. Scored two runs. Drove in one.
But he also easily stole two bases, one off a colossal jump right after the Cincinnati pitcher threw twice to first base to try to keep him there and another on a pitchout that never came close to catching him.
But he also established a tone by bowling over at home plate a Cincinnati catcher at least two inches and 20 pounds bigger, in a shoulder-down collision reminiscent of an open-ice check from his junior-hockey days. "Yeahhhh," he noted with his trademark smile.
But he also enabled the Pirates to seal a victory, his bat and legs critical in producing four of their first five runs, then his slide to break up a potential double play allowing the Pirates to score five more in a 10-2 Reds rout yesterday. Or, as winner Paul Maholm said of that last part, "He gave us five extra runs."
Morgan was more than mere numbers yesterday at Great American Ball Park.
"He's going to be that guy the whole year," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "I told him early in spring, 'Man, you do whatever you got to do to get ready. We're all going to go after you.' He's going to set the table for all of us. He's going to be a huge part of us winning some ballgames."
"He's doing well," manager John Russell said of the still-learning outfielder -- in just his seventh pro-baseball season and 522nd game, at 28 years, nine months old -- who leads the team with a .391 average and ranks third with five RBIs.
"We talked about it in the spring and last year: When Nyjer gets on base, good things happen for us. He likes to make things happen. When he does, it sets up the rest of our offense."
Yesterday, Maholm's pitching and some sturdy defense were other components vital to victory.
Maholm (1-0) was perfect through 32/3 innings, yielded just three hits, permitted one run and allowed five balls out of the infield amid his 25 batters faced. Andy LaRoche -- who had three errors in two games at St. Louis earlier in the week -- chipped in a defensive jewel on a foul-territory throw in the second inning. Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson added a couple of dandy snags later.
"For me, I'm going to try to get the hitter to put a ball in play on the first three pitches and let them do their job," Maholm added. "Jack, Freddy, Andy and Adam, they're fun to watch."
Yet Morgan stole this stage. He had a hand or foot in every Pirates run.
He opened the game with two quick strikes, then worked the count full against Johnny Cueto (0-1) before lashing a single up the middle. Cueto tried two throws to first and failed to pick Morgan off. Morgan then stole second, and Cueto then gave up a two-run homer to Nate McLouth for a 2-0 Pirates lead.
After back-to-back doubles by Brandon Moss and Wilson plated another Pirates run in the fourth, Morgan notched a run-scoring triple on a fly ball that glanced off the glove of Reds center fielder Willy Taveras.
In the seventh, Morgan walked, stole second again and ran over Ramon Hernandez at home after McLouth's two-out single for a 5-0 lead.
Then, in the ninth, after singling to follow an Eric Hinske walk, he prevented Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips from turning a double play on a Sanchez grounder. Soon enough, Doumit was hitting his first career grand slam and Adam LaRoche was adding another home run to end an 0-for-13 skid.
"Oh, yeah, it sends a message to our guys and it sends a message to the other team that we're not going to be pushed around this year," Morgan said of his aggressive play.