07/29/09 1:10 AM ET
Morgan sets tone for Nationals victory
Speedster hits leadoff homer, drives in three against Crew
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Morgan was the catalyst of the offense, getting two hits and a career-high three RBIs in the game. He led off the first inning against starter Carlos Villanueva with his third homer of the season.
"The last couple of days, the pitchers have started me off inside, so I had an idea they were going to pound me in," Morgan said. "It's just one of those things where I was feeling a little sexy at the dish."
Morgan has been a difference maker since he was traded to the Nationals on June 30. Besides playing outstanding defense in center field, he is hitting .389 [35-for-90] with 17 runs scored and a team-leading 13 stolen bases.
"Nyjer has been outstanding in every facet since he has been here -- defense, base running, getting on base, driving in runs," interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "He has been doing a great job. That's one thing we haven't seen -- [him hitting] one out of the park in a game like that. He is a strong little guy. It was nice to get on the board quickly."
Morgan said it's good to finally show what he could do during a full season.
"I'm playing the game like I've always been," Morgan said. "There's nothing really special. I'm just going out there and playing."
Balester had one of his best outings of his career, lasting six innings and giving up two runs on five hits. In the second inning, he gave up an RBI single to J.J. Hardy to tie the score at 1. In the sixth inning, Ryan Braun hit a solo homer, but the Nationals already had a comfortable lead.
"I tried to go out there and throw strikes," Balester said. "I located the ball good, use my off-speed pitches effectively and let the players get themselves out. I think I did that. I wasn't really down in the zone; I was a little up in the zone. I got some fly balls here and there."
The Nationals broke the 1-1 tie in the fourth by scoring four runs. Adam Dunn led off and hit a mammoth home run over the right-field wall. The ball went into the concourse area and then bounced out of the park. The estimated distance was 445 feet.
"Oh, my god." Morgan said. "I have no words for it."
Four batters later, the Nationals had runners on first and second, when Wil Nieves hit a sinking line drive into right field. Corey Hart dove for the ball, but it came out of his glove for a base hit, scoring Josh Willingham.
"I kind of snow-coned it, rolled over and it popped out of my glove," Hart said. "Anytime you leave your feet, it's hit or miss. It's just one of those things. They got on the board and we were trying to play catch up and they kept us off balance enough."
After Balester advanced Willie Harris and Nieves with a sacrifice bunt, Morgan drove in Harris and Nieves with a single to right.
"[Before the trade, the coaching staff] was not keeping a close eye [on Morgan], but it's a good thing [interim general manager Mike] Rizzo was, because it was a nice addition," Riggleman said.
Washington increased its lead in the eighth inning, when Cristian Guzman hit a three-run homer off right-hander Tim Dillard, who pitched four innings in his season debut.
"It wasn't the debut I wanted," Dillard said. "I felt good. I was trying to throw strikes but I was just missing. It doesn't help anything when you walk guys. I was missing down, and if you're going to miss, that's where you want to go. When they aren't swinging at it, that's when you have to throw strikes. I kept thinking, 'Well, maybe I'll get a call,' or, 'Maybe they'll swing at it.' But they're big leaguer hitters and they're better than that.
"It was a change-up [to Guzman]. The board said 86 [mph], and if that was true, then I just threw it way too hard. I had thrown him everything down and away, and I just went to the well a few too many times, I think."
Washington has won six out of its past eight games to improve to 32-68.
The team felt all along it could play quality baseball. There's a little more energy and a little more buzz.
"Guys are ready to go and just compete every night," Morgan said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.