You've seen it countless times before in this old past time.
Pitcher throws at batter. Batter takes exception, drops the wood, and charges the mound. Physical confrontation ensues, benches clear, and infield momentarily resembles a battle field. Nothing new in the game of baseball.
But last night, in South Florida, something slightly less common took place amid this not-so-uncommon occurrence.
When the Washington Nationals' Nyjer Morgan stepped up to the plate in the 6th inning, Marlins hurler Chris Volstad swiftly sent pitch number-one sailing past Morgan's backside. Morgan, having already been hit by a pitch 2 innings earlier, decided he'd had enough and bolted for Volstad, grazing a left cross off the pitcher's face before being clothes-lined, then gang-mobbed into the Sun Life Stadium turf.
First, to lend depth, the Fish had an axe to grind with Morgan. A night earlier, Morgan barreled home, colliding with Florida's Brett Hayes, separating the catcher's shoulder, likely ending his season.
Then, in the 4th inning, after bean ball-1, with the Nats down 14-4, Morgan stole 2nd and 3rd base, inexplicably drawing the ire of some of Florida's fielders. Preposterous, it seems, to take offense to a player hustling and scrapping to get his club back into a game (which is exactly what the Fish did, claiming Morgan violated an "unwritten rule" by running on a team when -- get this -- trailing by a sizable deficit)!
In truth, it's been a tough, if not troubling past few weeks for the speedy Morgan. Not even 2 weeks ago he was suspended 7 games for tossing a baseball at a fan in Philadelphia, striking him in the head (Morgan denies it was intentional and continues to play until his appeal is ruled upon). A week later, facing St. Louis, he drew criticism for going out of his way to bump the Cardinals' catcher after racing home to score well before the ball ever arrived at the plate.
Cheap shot? Yeah. Dirty play? Sure. Calculated and executed with purpose? Absolutely.
There's an interesting back story to this back story. Nyjer Morgan, while relatively obscure to the common baseball fan, is a bit of a baseball anomaly. Heck, the 30-year old, in only his second full season in the Bigs, is more of a plain, athletic anomaly.
Anyone scratching their head today over Morgan's explosion, or even his small litany of recent behavior need know only this-- Nyjer Morgan is a hockey player, first. He just happens to play baseball today.
Growing up an African-American in California's Bay area, Morgan began playing hockey at age 8. A swift skater with raw talent, he was so good, he actually spent a brief stint playing professional major-junior hockey in the WHL in Regina, Saskatchewan. This is not minutiae when examining what really goes on in the head of baseball's newest lightning rod.
You see, Nyjer Morgan is Tie Domi. He's Esa Tikkanen, Darcy Tucker, and Mike Peca, only in a cap and cleats. This is a guy who attacks the diamond with a hockey player's mentality, specifically that of the aforementioned "little guys" commonly known in the NHL as "pests".
Hockey players are largely blue-collar compared to the rest of the major sporting world, and most would simply scoff at the idea of ever folding on a game, unwritten rules be damned. Players of Morgan's qualities do exactly what he did last night all the time. They go out, whether up 2 goals or down 3, and provide a spark for their team while purposely trying to get under the skin of the other club. They don't care how their opponents respond, and when a response comes, they certainly don't hide from it.
Chances are, there will be more confrontation in Morgan's major league career. His unpopularity, as well as his proverbial target, is growing, among his peers, by the week. You don't have to like the diminutive firecracker, but one thing that can't be ignored by now-- When Nyjer Morgan crosses the line -- be it literal (foul line), or feels others have crossed his (principles), he's not going to be afraid to drop the gloves and go.
Maybe they should build a penalty box at Nationals Park in D.C.