Brewers' Morgan keeps up antics in NLDS
Milwaukee’s eccentric center fielder has spawned no less than four alter egos this season from Tony Plush to Tony Hush, and they’re all helping to keep the Brewers’ loose as they take a 2-0 lead in their NL division series to Arizona for Game 3 Tuesday.
“It’s good when you have a lot of different personalities on your team. They all draw from each other. They don’t feel like the spotlight’s just on one guy. I think it’s really healthy,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “It’s an awful boring team if you have guys with no personalities.”
Morgan insists he’s Plush when he steps on the field because he’s an entertainer, and all entertainers need stage identities. Out of Plush’s persona have come characters like Tony Tombstone, Tony Gumble and Tony Hush.
Morgan’s antics have mostly helped the Brewers. Stars Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun let their play do the talking.
Morgan handles everything else.
While Braun and Fielder have started this NLDS a combined 9 of 16 with two homers and six RBIs, Morgan is making a mark, too.
In Game 1, he initially couldn’t see a drive by Lyle Overbay in the seventh with sunlight filtering through Miller Park’s windows, but caught it at the warning track and crashed hard into the wall of Milwaukee’s 4-1 win.
In the Brewers’ five-run rally in the sixth inning of Game 2, Morgan lashed the first pitch he saw for a two-run single in a 9-4 victory that puts Milwaukee on the cusp of its first postseason series victory since 1982.
“It’s huge with the home-field advantage in our park,” Morgan said. “But we’ve got to go there and take care of business and try to come home on Tuesday.”
Morgan hit .304 and scored 61 runs in 119 regular-season games, hitting in front of Braun and Fielder in his role as the left-handed hitter in a center field platoon. He has also played exceptional defense.
Trying to explain Morgan’s mind is harder.
The 31-year-old has enough personalities for an entire team. While he’s carried the moniker “Tony Plush” for a dozen years as a joke among friends in the San Francisco Bay area, Milwaukee fans have made him their own.
“I can’t sugarcoat it for anybody. This is who I am. I’m going to be out there, I’m going to go out and have fun,” Morgan said. “I might get under people’s skin a little bit. But as long as it’s for the right things and I’m out there hustling, doing what I am supposed to do to win for my organization, then I’m going to be me.”
He certainly has been irritating to opponents.
In July in San Francisco, he made a gesture to signify two outs in an inning that Giants fans took as a crude sign, and Morgan and the fans got into a heated discussion.
That incident, Roenicke said, drew a phone call from Joe Torre, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations.
Morgan also has had a season-long feud with the Cardinals and ace Chris Carpenter. The talk between the two during a game in August became so heated that third base umpire Mike Estabrook warned Morgan.
Then last month, Morgan struck out and threw a wad of tobacco after he and Carpenter swore at each other. Albert Pujols got involved as the benches emptied. No punches were thrown, but Morgan insulted Pujols on his Twitter handle, TheRealTPlush, and posted that he hoped the Cardinals enjoyed watching the Brewers in the playoffs.
Instead, St. Louis has joined them as the NL wild card and beat Philadelphia 5-4 on Sunday night to even their series at a game apiece.
The run-ins are a far cry from the laughs Morgan draws in the clubhouse when he dresses up like a cowboy (Tony Tombstone) as part of a road trip theme or acts like a professional broadcaster (Tony Gumble) in postgame interviews.
“I’m an entertainer and I’m going to make things happen,” Morgan said. “You’ve got to make good things happen for the team and everything. Everything seems to be working out.”
It’s led to a group that has stayed grounded despite the postseason pressure.
“We have fun from the time we get to the ballpark to the time that we leave. And I think it helps keep everybody loose. It really helps to keep our minds off of the magnitude of the games that we’re playing,” Braun said. “We’ve done a really good job all year just showing up here, having a good time, laughing, smiling, talking trash and having fun.”
Roenicke said there’s more to Morgan than zany characters and impromptu outbursts.
“This is really a good young man. I know he’s emotional, I know sometimes he does some things that he shouldn’t do,” the first-year manager said. “He’s a big part of, I think, the chemistry of what’s going on with this club.”
Morgan understands he walks a fine line at times and tries hard not to disappoint Roenicke or become a distraction.
“There’s times where he gives me that look, where it’s like, ’Hey, Nyj, kind of tone it down a little bit,’” Morgan said. “He let’s me be me, and he understands me. Being able to have somebody like that in your corner is pretty solid.”
The club and fans feed off Morgan’s energy in the field and when Plush became “Tony Hush” following the second Cardinals’ incident, the Brewers tightened up as the division lead dwindled to 4½ games. Morgan slumped, hitting .207 over a 10-game stretch before finally breaking his silence on Twitter on Sept. 20.
“T-Hush tha weather man is gone! He had to battle tha T-Plush storm and still made it through the dense fog! I’m back!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!!”
Three days later, Milwaukee clinched its first division title in 29 years. Morgan contributed that night with a hit. He batted .300 over the final week of the season, and has kept rolling from there.
“The key thing is to go out there and have fun,” Morgan said. “Even though it’s at the highest stage right now, you have to go out there and have fun. They tell us that from Little League kids all the way to now: Go out there and have fun, do everything you need to do and everything takes care of itself.”