MILWAUKEE — Nyjer Morgan denounced his “haters.” He suggested he might celebrate by taking a nice, relaxing bath. Then he erupted with a cackle.
All while wearing a helmet in his postgame news conference.
After delivering an RBI single in the 10th inning to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-2, on Friday in Game 5 and send the Milwaukee Brewers to the NL championship series, Morgan was taking it all in and letting his oversized, oddball personality out.
“It’s a lot, man,” Morgan said.
“Basically just everything that I’ve had to overcome, just the stuff that people go out there and perceive about me, everything. Just all my haters. I just wanted to show them that I can play this game, even though I have a fun, bubbly personality. I still come to win, and I’m a winner.”
The Brewers would expect nothing less from their rabble-rousing, run-producing force who often refers to himself by the name of his self-created alter ego, “Tony Plush.” Morgan might have worn out his welcome with other teams, but he’s winning over the Brewers and their fans.
“He’s a joy to have, I’ll tell you,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “I don’t care about all the little issues we have. This guy, I love him on this team. I like him as a really nice young man. He came through big, again, when we needed him.”
Next, the Brewers face NL Central nemesis St. Louis after the wild-card Cardinals beat Philadelphia, 1-0, in Game 5 of their series Friday night. Milwaukee will open at home against St. Louis on Sunday.
With the game tied at 2 in the 10th and Carlos Gomez on second base with one out, Morgan hit a grounder up the middle that Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz tried in vain to stop with his leg. The ball went into center field and Gomez sailed across home plate as a wild throw home went awry.
Gomez was surprised when one of the first people to greet him on the field at raucous Miller Park was Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio.
“You have to be smart,” Gomez said. “You have to get to the boss first, and then your teammates.”
Morgan was mobbed by the Brewers near the mound after the latest dramatic finish for baseball’s best home team 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.
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.
“I’m not ready to go home yet,” Young said. “I’m not hanging my head because I think we could have done anything different. I’m hanging my head just because I want to keep playing and I don’t want the season to be over yet.”
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.
“Nyjer got the biggest hit of his life, one of the biggest hits in Brewers history,” Braun said. “We’re all proud, man. It’s pretty cool.”
But Morgan wasn’t having a particularly productive series until his big moment in the deciding game — although he bristled at the suggestion that he was struggling.
“What struggles?” Morgan said. “It’s baseball, man.”
Afterward, the Brewers spent more than an hour celebrating with thousands of Miller Park fans who stuck around. Attanasio ran out onto the field immediately after Morgan’s game-winning hit and grabbed Gomez.
“I’ve never done that,” the owner said. “I was so excited. I could not contain myself.”
Then, the principal owner who bought the team from the Selig family in September 2004, continued to party by high-fiving fans while standing on top of the first-base dugout.
“It’s emotional, man,” Prince Fielder said. “You just feel the work and everything. Everything is paying off.”
The party continued for even the youngest Brewers.
The sons of Fielder, Yovani Gallardo and Corey Hart all pumped up the crowd, waving their arms for more noise before doing the “Beast Mode” celebration that the Brewers have rallied around.
The scene was similar exactly two weeks earlier when Milwaukee captured its first division title since winning the AL East in 1982.
That was also the last time Milwaukee won a round in the postseason, when it captured the American League pennant before losing in seven games to St. Louis in the World Series.
With a 2-1 lead and their tough 1-2 bullpen combination of Francisco Rodriguez and Axford lined up for the eighth and ninth Friday, 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 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 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 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 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.
Gallardo gave up one run in six innings. The right-hander threw 112 pitches, allowing six hits while walking two and striking out five.
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. The Cardinals’ win meant the first game of the NL championship series will be Sunday at Miller Park.
“I think we’ve done all our celebrating,” Roenicke said. “I know I have. So, yeah, I’ll sit back and watch what’s going on with those games to see if we’re staying here or we’re going on the road tomorrow.”