Morneau in right place to make right play
CHICAGO — Justin Morneau said his instincts took him there.
Morneau said his instincts compelled him to move to a place right beside the pitcher's mound at Wrigley Field where he played the pivotal role in the play the ended a 20-year postseason drought on Monday in a 2-1 Pirates win over the Cubs.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and Nate Schierholtz on first, Ryan Sweeney lined a Jason Grilli fastball into the right-center field gap. Because the Pirates outfield was playing so deep to prevent an extra-base hit, Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd was able to intercept the ball. But Byrd failed to cleanly field the ball. The ball deflected to his left. Hearts sunk in Pittsburgh.
That's when all heck broke loose. That's when Morneau saw Schierholtz sprinting around second base. That's when Morneau peeked at Cubs third base coach David Bell, who waved his left arm like an airplane propeller.
That's when Morneau drifted toward the center of the diamond.
“Not too often is there going to be a play at home on that kind of ball,” Morneau said. “I stay at first and try to keep (Sweeney) at first and drift toward the middle once I see something different happen. Then saw it kick away ... I go back to the instincts. Something told me to go there.”
Morneau drifted to the center of the diamond where he received a one-bounce throw from Andrew McCutchen, who was backing up Byrd in right-center field.
“It was instinct,” McCutchen said of the throw. “I was just trying to get it in. I wasn't trying to do anything crazy.”
The throw was slightly off line. Morneau collected it, quickly pivoted and delivered a perfect throw to catcher Russell Martin, who blocked the plate.
“I looked to see if (Bell) was waving him home,” Morneau said. “I just threw it home, and Russ made the play.
Said Morneau who was traded to the Pirates in August from out-of-contention Minnesota: “I was in the right place at the right time.”
Martin was also in the right position at the right time.
On Monday night, Martin found himself — with a balky left knee — as the last defense between clinching a playoff berth or third loss when leading after eight innings in five days. The Pirates converted 76 of their first 77 such opportunities this season.
“It's not a play you practice or you design,” said Martin, wearing a champagne-drenched Pirates postseason shirt after the 9-8-3-2 putout. “That situation is do-or-die. I was on both knees. I wasn't taking any chances with him getting underneath me.”
Homeplate umpire Mike DiMuro threw down a fist. Schierhotlz was out. The Pirates were in.