It’s May 22, 2010, and the Baltimore Orioles are in Washington, D.C. to face the Nationals in their annual MASN series.
Both of these teams will end up finishing dead last in their divisions, with a combined 189 losses. But for now, it’s May. The Nationals are sitting on an improbable 22-22 record that they totally don’t deserve,but which makes them much more interesting than they’re supposed to be. Meanwhile, the Orioles are just… terrible. They’re 14-30, and their starting pitcher today is Brad Bergesen, who has twelve strikeouts and twelve walks through his first 36.1 innings.
Nothing much happens through the first three innings. Ty Wigginton knocks in two Baltimore runs in the first inning, thanks in part to a fielding error by none other than our hero- Nyjer Morgan. Morgan is a light-hitting center fielder with unbelievable wheels. He’s mostly solid defensively, and he’s a pretty good baserunner when he’s not getting caught stealing. He’ll finish 2010 with 34 stolen bases and 17 failed attempts, leading the majors in the latter stat.
The Nationals tie the game in the third inning thanks to a Josh Willingham two-run homer. What happens now?
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is at the plate with two outs and a runner at third in the top of the fourth inning. Jones isn’t quite at the height of his powers yet- his down-ballot-MVP-vote years would begin in 2011 and stretch through 2015. Even though he hasn’t fully hit his stride as a ballplayer, Jones will still finish 2010 with a plenty respectable 2.5 WAR in 149 games as Baltimore’s primary center fielder.
Jones is facing down Craig Stammen, who’s still kind of figuring out what type of pitcher he is. Stammen was usually a starter in the minors, but he’s struggling in the majors and the Nats are experimenting with putting him in a swingman role. He’ll eventually have a very productive career as a middle reliever/setup man, but he’s not quite there yet. Right now, Stammen’s just trying to keep his head above water in his sophomore season.
On an 0-1 count, Stammen throws an 88-MPH sinker that tails right through the heart of the plate. Adam Jones will finish with 3.0 offensive WAR in 2010, and he doesn’t miss 88-MPH sinkers down the middle. He puts a gorgeous swing on the pitch and crushes it to the deepest part of Nationals Park.
Morgan gets a good read on the ball, spins around and turns on the jets. It’s a testament to his speed and defensive ability that he gets any leather on the ball at all. He and the ball reach the center-field wall at the same time, Morgan leaps to catch it and…
Crucially, Morgan doesn’t turn around to see the ball lying on the warning track behind him. He thinks he knocked it over the wall Austin Meadows-style, and he’s angry about it. He flings his arms up, fake-spikes his glove into the dirt- it doesn’t appear that he actually threw it- and stomps away from the ball, which is still very much in play. Adam Jones is nearly to third base by the time left fielder Josh Willingham collects the ball and throws it to his cutoff man, whose relay home isn’t a match for Jones’s speed. Adam Jones has an inside-the-park home run, the Orioles are up 4-2, and Nyjer Morgan has an all-time baseball blunder.
After the Moment
The Orioles took a 4-2 lead on Morgan’s mistake, but the Nationals dropped a four-run sixth inning on the Orioles and ended up winning 7-6. Craig Stammen pulled out the win, even though the Orioles burned him for six runs on nine hits. The Nationals starting plummeting down the standings very quickly after this game- they went 47-71 over the rest of the 2010 season.
Nyjer Morgan was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers near the end of spring training the following season, where he had the best season of his career thanks to a 111 OPS+ and his usual decent center field defense. Morgan would become a Milwaukee baseball legend during the 2011 NLDS, where he walked off the series with a single in Game Five against the Diamondbacks and blessed the world with one of the greatest postgame celebrations ever caught on video.
If there’s a moral to the story of Nyjer Morgan’s glove spike, it’s to always check the glove, kids.
For this game’s official game log on Baseball Reference, click here.
To see Morgan talk about the play during his postgame interview, click here.