The chants reverberated at Nationals Park with each line drive Sunday afternoon. “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” The fans were cheering for Daniel Murphy, a National League most valuable player candidate for his regular season work who is also conjuring more postseason magic.
A year after leading the New York Mets to the World Series, hitting seven playoff home runs, Murphy is at it again for the Washington Nationals. The all-star second baseman went 3 for 3 with a walk, run and two RBI in Washington’s 5-2 Game 2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Murphy motored the offense as he has done all season after Jose Lobaton’s go-ahead three-run home run in the fourth inning. The National League Division Series, tied after two games, will continue in Los Angeles with Game 3 Monday at 4:08 p.m. Eastern time.
“He wants to be in that position,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s where it starts.”
Murphy, 31, was not a lock to be ready for the this series. He had not started since Sept. 17 before Friday’s Game 1 loss and was limited to three pinch-hit appearances during the Nationals’ final 14 regular season games because of a gluteus strain. He spent the four off-days between the end of the regular season and Game 1 testing his body with a variety of running drills. He ran around cones. He sprinted in the outfield. He ran the bases.
He hasn’t missed a step: Through two playoff contests, he is 4 for 6 with two walks against a team that started Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, two of the best left-handers in baseball.
“The nice thing is to get a couple days to prepare,” said Murphy. “During the season, you’re just running through the rotation, not a lot of days off. So we had four or five days to prepare for Clayton and even with the day off [Saturday] to do some work to prepare for Rich watching some video.”
Murphy, a left-handed hitter, used his quiet swing to tally two of his hits off Hill, who he had never faced. The second, a liner to right-center field, scored Trea Turner after he had taken a borderline pitch that could’ve been strike three. But it was called a ball. After Turner scored, Hill was chased with one out in the fifth inning. It was Hill’s shortest outing since he went 2⅔ innings as the Oakland Athletics’ opening day starter April 4.
The third hit, an opposite-field line drive to left, came against another left-hander, Grant Dayton, and drove in Jayson Werth in the seventh inning.
“What he always does is he puts an at-bat together,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said. “You know, especially in the postseason, he really doesn’t go out of the zone. He really stays in the strike zone and finds a way to use the whole field. And left-on-left, right-on-left, it really doesn’t matter for Murphy.”
“He has a high level of concentration, and he had a pretty good idea of what he wants to do with the ball,” Baker said. “He knows when he’s supposed to keep it off the ground. He knows when he’s supposed to make contact. He also knows when he should go for the bunt, go for the homer. He has a great idea on how to play and how to hit.”
Murphy, fittingly, fielded the final out. He charged a groundball off Josh Reddick’s bat and made a short throw to Ryan Zimmerman. He let out a roar when the out was made. The crowd roared in unison. Murphy is thriving again during the postseason.