Well, I suppose you have to do something to liven things up when the two teams playing are a combined 32 games out of first place in their own division, with only a month left to the season. This goes double when the game is already a blowout in the sixth inning.
The Marlins and Nationals apparently decided to liven things up, ironically, by trying to kill each other.
Well, it was a little more complicated than that.
In the top of the 6th inning of a 15-5 drubbing, Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan evidently took umbrage at the fact that the Marlins were throwing at him, and charged the mound. What Morgan (generously listed at "six feet" tall and 175 lbs) thought he was going to do to Chris Volstad (6'8", 230 lbs) is beyond my comprehension.
For his part, Volstad seemed singularly unimpressed as Morgan charged at him, throwing his glove down in arrogance and dodging Morgan's only real punch, that jumping left hook he learned from watching too many action movies.
It didn't work.
And, I would guess that among the things going through Morgan's mind as he ran out to the mound, he probably didn't imagine being flattened by a man named "Gaby."
Instead, Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez, not much taller but about 50 pounds heavier than Morgan, clotheslined him and brought him to the ground, whereupon everyone else joined in the scrum. It took 10 or 15 minutes for the figurative dust to settle, and when it did, both Volstad and Morgan had been ejected, of course.
Additionally, Florida manager Edwin Rodriguez (presumably for complicity in, if not actually ordering the plunking) and relief pitcher Jose Veras, whose only crime as far as I can tell was that he happened to be standing next to one of the umpires when they were looking for another scapegoat, were also ejected.
During the course of the brawl, various players, coaches, and even (I think) the Nationals bullpen catcher had gotten into the mix. Nationals third base coach Pat Listach was clobbering Volstad at the bottom of the melee, and others can clearly be seen throwing hard punches on the video replay, but nobody else was ousted.
In most of the highlight reels, Morgan ends up looking like the bad guy, and with good reason. Namely, that he makes himself look like a bad guy. I mean, not like a Hitler-type of bad guy, more the professional wrestler type of bad guy.
A guy who shoots off his mouth and tries to back his words up with action and even when he's more or less defeated, feels the need to save face by, well, yelling more. A guy who seemingly walks around all the time as though he's still hitting the .351 he smacked for the Nats last year, rather than the .257 mark he's posted this year.
The truth, however, is rarely that simple.
The problem did not start in the top of the sixth on Wednesday night. It didn't even start Wednesday, but rather Tuesday night, in a scoreless tie in the top of the 10th inning. Running full speed, Morgan bowled over Marlins' catcher Brett Hayes, trying to score from second base on a fielder's choice grounder to shortstop Hanley Ramirez. The result was a separated shoulder for Hayes and probably the end of his season.
Morgan went back to touch the plate, just in case, but Hayes had held onto the ball, and he was out. Reportedly, Morgan didn't say anything to Hayes either then or after the game, and evidently the Marlins didn't appreciate that. I guess they think that an opposing player ought to apologize for trying to win the game any way he can, even though it was essentially a clean play that just ended badly for their guy.
What they should have taken exception to, if anything, was the slow reaction and lazy throw to home plate, which clocked only 69 miles per hour.
Ramirez has a major league shortstop's arm, and is certainly capable of throwing a baseball at 90 mph, perhaps more. But this lobbed throw forced Hayes to catch it as Morgan came barreling towards him, giving him no time to set himself for the collision. A 90 mph throw would have given him an extra 0.2 seconds to set himself, which is longer than it sounds like, and might have helped him to stave off injury.
For that matter, if Ramirez had been paying closer attention to Morgan, he might have seen him running full steam sooner and therefore given Hayes enough time to avoid the collision all together. If the Marlins are looking to blame someone for Hayes' injury, they need look no further than their own All-Star shortstop.
Morgan, for his part, was just playing heads-up baseball—risking injury to himself as well, it should be noted—trying to win a scoreless, extra-inning game for his team. His effort to hit the catcher hard enough to dislodge the ball is no more or less than thousands of players have done in thousands of baseball games over the last century and a half of professional baseball.
That the Marlins didn't appreciate the outcome—and they did eventually win the game, after all—is their problem.
But they didn't see it that way. With the score 14-3 Marlins, with one out in the top of the fourth inning the next night, Morgan came to bat, and the Fish saw their opportunity. Volstad hit him with a 92 mph fastball and then stared Morgan down, waiting for a reaction. Nyjer didn't give him the satisfaction though, turning away from the pitcher, briefly rubbing his highly-padded elbow and scampering down to first base.
But the Marlins made a bad gamble, doing for Morgan the one thing he's largely been unable to do for himself this year: they put him on base. While Morgan is not a terribly effective base stealer, on a pace to lead the NL in times caught for the second time in his career, he also had 30 successful steals so far this year, so he's nothing if not fast.
Plus, he's got a chip on his shoulder and a reason to show them up now, so he stole second base, and then stole third three pitches later. That gave him all the opportunity he needed to score a run when the Marlins' second baseman Donnie Murphy stumbled and sustained an injury catching a pop-up. They really showed him, huh?
So the Marlins, feeling that the "lesson" had not yet sunk into Morgan's head, decided to try to sink a baseball into it instead. But Volstad missed this time, throwing behind him and eliciting the Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon response you've probably already seen a dozen times on SportsCenter.
Obviously warnings were given to both benches after the fracas, so when Gaby Sanchez got plunked an inning later both pitcher Doug Slaten and manager Jim Riggleman were ejected. Everyone else was allowed to finish their regularly scheduled program, in the form of a 16-10 trouncing that was frankly an embarrassment for both franchises.