By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 2, 2010; 12:44 AM
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. - Nyjer Morgan and the rest of the Washington Nationals understood the first time Florida Marlins starting pitcher Chris Volstad hit him Wednesday night. Just baseball. Part of the game. They expected Morgan would be plunked one night after he bowled over and knocked out Florida catcher Brett Hayes. Morgan absorbed his beaning and walked to first base, mouth shut.
"I thought," Morgan said after the game, "it was over after that."
The Marlins, they said afterward, thought so, too. But the feud between the Marlins and the Nationals - which made a sidenote of Scott Olsen's five-out, nine-run start and the Nationals' 16-10 loss - would not end until Morgan ignited a bench-emptying ruckus and culminated his week-long heel-turn by walking off the field, shirt unbuttoned and hanging loose, alternately raising his fists over his head and beating his chest.
On Wednesday night, Morgan captured the spotlight and the venom of the 18,045 at Sun Life Stadium. His charging of Volstad led to the ejections of himself, Volstad, both managers and two relievers, including Nationals lefty Doug Slaten. After Volstad threw behind Morgan a second time, Morgan charged the mound and, as first baseman Gaby Sanchez clotheslined him, his teammates followed. Later, Slaten drilled Sanchez.
"We'll protect Nyjer," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "If anybody takes some liberties and does anything, then we'll protect him. There will be no free shots, I can guarantee you that. Nobody's going to throw at our guys without somebody getting thrown at."
Morgan hit leadoff, but the fiasco started in the fourth inning. In Morgan's third at-bat, Volstad drilled him in the ribs, Morgan blocking the ball with the protective guard he wears around his left elbow. He trotted to first and said nothing.
Once on first, with the Nationals down 14-3 in the fourth inning, Morgan stole second on the first pitch Volstad threw. On the second pitch, Morgan stole third.
"It's only the fourth inning," Morgan said. "If they're going to hold me on, I'm going to roll out. The circumstances were kind of out of whack, but the game was too early. It was only the fourth inning. If it happened again, I'd do it again."
Morgan eventually scored on Ian Desmond's shallow sacrifice fly, his momentum carrying him close to the front row, where he hollered at a fan. As Morgan made his dash around the bases, Riggleman held quorum with his veteran players.
"The question is, do we throw at them?" Riggleman said. "I said, 'It's your ballclub, if you want somebody getting thrown at, I'll order it right now.' And everybody said, 'Nah, it's over. It's over.' "
In their dugout, the Marlins decided it wasn't. They had taken harsh exception to Morgan's running the bases.
"I know he's stealing bases out of his own doing, he's trying to get back at us," Marlins third baseman Wes Helms said. "We had to show him that we weren't going to put up with the way he was treating us after last night but also trying to take the bases being [down] 10 runs. . . . He gets under everybody's skin. Especially mine."
And so, when Morgan came to bat again in the sixth, Volstad threw his first pitch behind him. Morgan hesitated for a moment then whipped his bat, threw his helmet and charged Volstad.
"He hit me the first time, so be it," Morgan said. "But then he whips another one behind me, we got to go."
Volstad threw his glove down. "Obviously," Volstad said, "he's not coming out there to talk."
Morgan, a former hockey player, leaped and threw a left at the 6-foot-8 Volstad. He grazed Volstad, and as he landed first baseman Sanchez clobbered him across the chest, leveling him.
Mayhem ensured, a pile of bodies meeting at the mound. Third base coach Pat Listach leaped on Volstad. Riggleman and Edwin Rodriguez barked at one another, Riggleman mouthing "One time" - the number of chances he believed the Marlins had to throw at Morgan.
"I got no problem with" Morgan stealing the bases, Riggleman said. "We decide when we run. The Florida Marlins will not decide when we run. We will decide when we run. Nobody will decide when we run. Nyjer took his revenge in the form of a stolen base, and I don't have a problem with that."
Morgan emerged from the scrum with his shirt nearly ripped off. He walked off the field and accepted the crowd's boos in the manner of a professional wrestler, raising his arms. Bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo tried to lower Morgan's arms as he disappeared into the dugout.
It was his final act in a long week that included learning of a seven-game suspension, a base running gaffe a collision with a catcher that didn't involve a ball, a one-game benching and another collision.
"There's bit a little bit of controversy surrounding the kid lately," Morgan said. "But it's just one of things. I'm a solid, hard-nosed player. When I'm out there between the lines, I'm out there to win and I'm out there to play hard."