Morgan's magnificent catch electrifies Pirates

Center fielder's diving play, Sanchez's three-run triple topple Cubs, 10-5


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Today
  • Game: Pirates (RHP Tony Armas 3-5, 6.49) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (RHP Carlos Villanueva 7-3, 4.47), 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
  • Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
  • Key matchup: Armas vs. National League home run leader Prince Fielder, who has taken him deep twice in six at-bats. He has 43 overall, including four in his past seven games.
  • Of note: The Brewers, winners of four of the past five as they contend for first place in the Central Division, are 9-4 vs. the Pirates and have outscored them, 77-36.

The triple is baseball's most exciting play, and Freddy Sanchez delivered a beauty with the bases loaded that boosted the Pirates past the Chicago Cubs, 10-5, yesterday at PNC Park.

Exciting stuff.

He nearly had an inside-the-park grand slam on that play, too, but was out at home on a close call.

Even more scintillating.

And yet, that scene somehow paled next to a one-of-a-kind catch by center fielder Nyjer Morgan, one that had observers gasping and grasping for words.

"The catch we saw in center field ... maybe the best of the year," manager Jim Tracy said.

"The best," shortstop Jack Wilson said. "This was No. 1."

"Unbelievable," Sanchez said.

The game was not televised and, even if it were, local attention surely was on that football game in Cleveland. But, for the 21,861 on hand, how the Cubs' third inning ended will not be soon forgotten ...

The Pirates were ahead, 6-2, thanks to a six-run second highlighted by Sanchez's clutch hit. Matt Morris retired Chicago's first two batters, and Ramirez did the best he could do with an outside slider, driving it with great authority the other way.

One problem: Morgan was shading Ramirez to pull, as every team has for years, so he had to start from 15 feet into left-center to track a ball headed for the left edge of the Clemente Wall in right field.

Judging from his ignition, he was not hoping to collect a carom.

"I'm thinking I'm going to catch it," Morgan recalled. "I think that every time."

Sprinting as if someone had pushed the fast-forward button, he closed on the ball, dived forward, stretching every sinewy strand in his body to its fullest and, in mid-air, backhanded it before sliding a few more feet with a face full of grass.

Right fielder Steve Pearce hurdled Morgan to avoid a collision.

The crowd stood and roared for several minutes, and other reactions were just as precious ...

Ramirez rounded first, saw the catch, stopped and laughed.

"I never thought he'd get it," Ramirez said. "That guy ran a long way."

Sanchez, the second baseman, sprinted far into the outfield to high-five Morgan.

Morris breathed a sigh of relief on the mound and shook his head.

"I've seen Jim Edmonds make some great ones," Morris said, referring to his time with the St. Louis Cardinals' perennial Gold Glover. "But the speed Nyjer showed to close like that and, from my perspective, the way Ramirez's ball was tailing away from him the whole time, the full extension ... I'm sorry, that play just doesn't get made. It's one of the best catches I've seen made."

Once Morgan realized there were three outs -- Sanchez running into the outfield provided the tipoff -- he leaped and bounced into the dugout.

Still, Morgan, in facing reporters, described it as "a play I'm used to making."

Challenged on that assessment, he grinned and replied, "Ah, not really, I guess. I didn't think he hit it that hard, so I had to adjust a little going back, too. I got there."

Morgan has fared well in other areas since his promotion from Class AAA Indianapolis at the beginning of this month: He is batting .267, has become a rare threat on the bases and, on this afternoon, went 2 for 5 with two RBI singles.

Small wonder Tracy is penning his name atop the lineup every day.

"Nyjer brings a lot to the table, and we're only seeing the beginning," Tracy said. "He's a very intriguing piece."

The Pirates fell behind, 2-0, in the second, but Pearce, Wilson and Morgan had RBI hits in the bottom half before bases were loaded with two outs for Sanchez.

He screamed a Steve Trachsel fastball toward left-center and, when center fielder Jacque Jones fell short of a diving attempt, the ball rolled to the fence. Three runs scored easily, and Sanchez was waved home.

The relay arrived in ample time for catcher Jason Kendall, but his tag took an eternity, and it came on Sanchez's left shin as his foot touched the plate. Replays indicated he was safe, but there was no argument.

"I thought I got under," Sanchez said. "But, when the ball beats you by that much, you're out."

Morris lasted six innings, shrugging off a mistake pitch Alfonso Soriano turned into a two-run home run in the fifth, and won for the second time since joining the Pirates. He exited with a 7-4 lead.

It was 7-5 in the eighth when pinch-hitter Jose Castillo -- 3 for his past 32 -- provided insurance. With bases loaded, he dueled Kerry Wood through eight pitches before plopping a two-run double onto the right-field line.

The Pirates took two of three from the Cubs, knocking them out of first place in the Central Division.




Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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