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In this photo, Mike Morse is hitting a grand slam without a baseball bat

In the first inning of a 2012 Cardinals-Nationals game, things got ... sort of weird

The image above is a screenshot of a video of a Major League Baseball game, taken on September 29th, 2012. It features Washington Nationals outfielder Mike Morse, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and home plate umpire Cory Blaser. The feet at the top of the screen belong to Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman.

Oh, and Mike Morse is hitting a grand slam. You might have some questions about that. Hypothetically, and in no particular order, they might be:

  1. Why is everyone standing up?
  2. Where is Morse’s bat?
  3. How is it possible to hit a grand slam with first base open?
First base is open per the broadcast graphic

These are good questions! I will try to answer them all at once. Everyone likes a challenge.

This game matters more to St. Louis. The Nationals are 95-62, in first place in the NL East, and while they haven’t clinched the division they’re four games ahead of the Atlanta Braves with four to play. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are 85-72, which is the sixth-best record in the National League. In 2011, that wouldn’t be a great spot, but this is the first year that MLB has opened up the postseason to feature two wild-card teams; the Cardinals are currently in possession of the second of these, and attempting to fend off the 82-75 Los Angeles Dodgers. Blowing a three game lead with five left to play? Stranger things have happened, and the pressure is very much on.

Most of my memories of Kyle Lohse, who’s starting for St. Louis, are of him on the Minnesota Twins, and they’re not even memories of him per se. He’s just one of the dozens of interchangeable Twins pitchers that swum idly around as Johan Santana did things. They were, as far as I remember, all named Kyle.

Anyway, Lohse is pitching for the Cardinals, and, freed of his Minnesota shackles, he is having a great year: ferocious win percentage, good ERA, in fringe contention for the Cy Young. Morse, meanwhile, is having a less-great year, hitting for power but virtually never walking. He came into this game hitting .287/.319/.454, a far cry from his excellent 2011 season. Despite loading the bases with a walk to Adam LaRoche, Lohse should have the edge; right before Morse swings at a 0-0 pitch the announcers mention that he’ll be looking for a double play.

Flashback to the broadcast graphic again:

Right. So. What the hell happened here?

The bases are actually loaded when Morse steps to the plate. LaRoche is on first, having walked, as we mentioned. Ryan Zimmerman is on second after a double. Bryce Harper is at third. Lohse’s first pitch is a 0-0 fastball. Morse goes down and gets it. He’s a strong man, and despite the slightly awkward lunge, the ball carries off his bat and into right field. Carlos Beltran has absolutely no play. Bryce Harper trots home.

Here’s where things get confused. It’s not clear to me whether Ryan Zimmerman thinks that the ball was going to be caught or that it was a no-doubter home run, but he ends up staying at third base, jamming up the basepaths for everyone else. LaRoche has to hold at second, and Morse is basically hurtling right up his ass, having hustled for a double in case the ball stays in play.

Which it does. Or at least, seems to. The ball caroms off the top of the wall, a friendly bounce puts it in Beltran’s glove, Morse has to turn around and sprint to first base, and despite a pretty heroic effort doesn’t make it before Allen Craig applies the tag. For those scoring at home: single to right runners advance, tagged coming back into first base. Not a grand slam.


Except ...

... Except the ball clearly was over the wall before bouncing back into the field of play. By this point, instant replay is part of baseball, and the umpires confer for the review while the teams mill about. Said review does not take very long, and a home run is quickly signalled. The only problem is that with the running back and forth during the play itself plus all the aforementioned milling about, it’s no longer very clear which bases Morse and the rest of the Nationals have to touch.

The solution? Have everyone go back to where they started and reenact the home run trot. Morse, standing somewhere around shortstop, is asked to jog back to second, then to first. Then, as LaRoche arrives, Morse is sent back home. So here we’re being treated to a grand slam in reverse as everyone moseys on back to where they began.

The absurdity of the situation is not lost on Morse, who decides to have some fun with it. If he has to re-enact a grand slam, he might as well go whole hog, right? And that’s how Mike Morse ends up standing in the batters’ box without his bat to hit a grand slam after running the bases backwards. Baseball! It’s extremely normal.

Oh, I know everyone has one more question, so: yes, Mike Morse does have a connection to the Seattle Mariners. He made his major league debut with them back in 2005, was there for four years, and returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2013. Because, of course.