LOS ANGELES – By pedigree and production, it is a mismatch, particularly on this stage. Daniel Murphy was once a 13th-round draft pick out of Jacksonville University, and he has spent his entire major-league career playing an assortment of positions because he has never been deemed good enough to own one. He will be a free agent after this season, and there is consternation around him. Should the New York Mets bring him back? Should they part ways? What’s his worth?
Zack Greinke was the sixth overall pick in the draft in 2002. He has one Cy Young Award to his credit and could well win another this year. He is due $77 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers over the next three seasons – yet is so good, he likely will exercise an opt-out clause in his contract because the market will make him worth more than that.
There were many factors in the Mets’ 3-2 victory in the fifth and deciding game of their National League Division Series on Thursday night – the win that sent them to their first National League Championship Series since 2006, the win that ended the Dodgers’ season without a pennant despite a record $310 million payroll. No one, though, outshone Murphy, the 30-year-old, 6-foot-1, 215-pound personification of these Mets.
“The way guys have played, everybody has gotten a piece of this at some point,” Murphy said, dripping with beer and champagne in the visitors’ clubhouse. “And that’s what makes it special.”
Murphy is a Mets kind of player. Murphy is a Queens kind of player. The NLCS will begin Saturday night at Citi Field against the Chicago Cubs because of what Murphy did against Greinke, which is to say everything. He drove in the Mets’ first run in the first. He essentially stole the Mets’ second run in the fourth. And then he provided the stunning, decisive blow, the solo homer against Greinke — his third home run of the series, all off Dodger co-aces Clayton Kershaw and Greinke.
The box score line: 3 for 4, a double, a homer, two runs scored and two driven in. That’s the line reserved for the stars in this series, such as David Wright or Adrian Gonzalez. Yet it was Murphy, the hero.
“He’s a baseball player,” Manager Terry Collins said. “He’s a baseball junky. He loves to hit. He loves to play the game. Plays every night, all-out. When he’s swinging the bat, he’s dangerous. When he’s hot, he is really dangerous.”
The ramifications of the Dodgers’ inability to retire him will be far-reaching at Chavez Ravine, where the future of Manager Don Mattingly will be Topic A on Friday morning. It didn’t help, it seemed, that Mattingly appeared to get in a screaming match – or at least was screamed at – by veteran Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier during the third inning Thursday.
That, Mattingly said afterward, was merely the result of Ethier’s displeasure with an umpire’s call, and Mattingly’s effort — unsuccessful, it appeared — to calm him down. But long before that, the perception is that Mattingly has ridden this payroll into the postseason three straight years – a Dodger record – and hasn’t delivered in October. He was asked the question Los Angeles wants to know — Does he believe he’s coming back? — and responded thusly: “Seriously? You’re asking me that now?”
The Mets have games, not drama, ahead. For a while, though, that seemed unlikely, because right-hander Jacob deGrom — he of the 13-strikeout performance in Game 1 — didn’t look himself. He allowed three straight hard singles and a flare for two Dodger runs in the first. He walked the leadoff man in the second. He allowed a leadoff double and a one-out walk in the third, putting runners at the corners. He was, at that point, on the edge.
“There was a couple times I thought, ‘Hey, they might pull me here,’” deGrom said.
“There were four times in the game he was one hit away from coming out,” Collins said. Yet when Collins went to visit in the third, he turned and headed back to the dugout. The decision not only shaped the game, but may have shaped deGrom’s status with his franchise going forward. Collins was making a clear statement: He had faith in deGrom’s body of work, sure. But he also had faith in his fight.
“He had command of nothing,” Collins said. “And all he did was battle and battle and battle.”
The response was immediate. DeGrom fielded a come-backer off the bat of Kike’ Hernandez. He turned and calmly threw to second, starting the double play that ended the inning, snuffed the threat – and extended his own night. When he was finally lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh, he had allowed only the two runs from the first.
From there, it was Murphy. After he singled to lead off the fourth, he watched the Dodgers shift against left-handed-hitting Lucas Duda. “It crossed my mind,” Murphy said, and this is what Collins means by “baseball junky.” With the shift, Murphy knew regular third baseman Justin Turner, moved to the right of second base, might not get back to cover third.
“Usually over there they do such a great job of closing that up,” Murphy said. “Justin is as aware of a baseball player as I’ve ever played with.”
Not as aware as Murphy, who just scooted to third on Duda’s walk — a stolen base. He scored the tying run on Travis d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly.
And then it was Murphy in the sixth, working the count full.
“He’s always been, to me, a guy that’s been a tough out,” Mattingly said. “Pretty much hits everybody’s fastball. … Get in fastball counts with him and you’re in trouble.”
Here, then, came Greinke’s fastball. There it went, too, out to right. “I don’t know. Euphoria?” Murphy said. What’s it supposed to feel like?
It took three 100-mph outs from Noah Syndergaard to get through the seventh. It took six outs from closer Jeurys Familia. It took, as Murphy said, “everyone in here.”
Everyone in there, at that moment, was soaked. Everyone in there had another game to play. And everyone in there had Daniel Murphy to thank for it.