Forget for the moment about trying to solve the New York Mets’ corps of child prodigies on the mound. They’ve put the Chicago Cubs in the position into which they put the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Dodgers had no ready answer for it to their own detriment.
They’ve got the Cubs trying to figure out how a guy who’s never hit more than fourteen home runs in any regular major league season has hit five in a single postseason, and off the league’s top three Cy Young Award candidates while he was at it.
Add Jake Arrieta to the list of aces off whom Daniel Murphy has gone long. And add Arrieta to the list of aces off whom the Mets have triumphed to big advantages in a 2015 postseason in which they weren’t even supposed to be a topic when the experts and oddsmakers performed their calculations heading out of spring training.
Arrieta had gone 29 consecutive starts without surrendering even one run in the first inning. On Sunday night, he found himself in the hole 3-0 before he’d thrown his fourteen pitch of that inning.
“The ambush early got us,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, after his Cubs found themselves taking the National League Championship Series to Wrigley Field in an 0-2 hole following a 4-2 loss to these Mets, who don’t seem to know the meaning of the word surrender.
“I put us in a pretty big hole there at the start,” said Arrieta, “one that was a little too hard to overcome. They came out pretty aggressive. Took advantage of a couple of balls elevated in the strike zone. The curveball to Murphy wasn’t that bad of a pitch. I didn’t do a good enough job of minimizing mistakes.”
It only began with Curtis Granderson shooting a leadoff single through the Cubs’ overshift and it merely continued with David Wright, the Mets’ captain mired in a postseason slump that has people wondering whether his back issues are resolved entirely, bouncing a 2-1 up-in-the-middle pitch off the center field wall for an RBI double.
Up stepped Murphy. First, a swinging strike. Then, a line drive that curled to the foul side of the right field pole. Then, a check swing on an outside service. Then, a curve ball with enough hang time for Murphy to send it flying just inside the right field pole. Just like that, the Mets were up 3-0 with nobody out.
Until this postseason Murphy was a useful if unspectacular player who made his first All-Star team during his sixth major league season when it wasn’t even his best, Murphy having been good for 3.0 wins above a replacement level player in 2011 but a shy-of-2.00 WAR man otherwise.
Now, Murphy made for the fourth straight postseason game in which he homered and for a new Mets team postseason record with his fifth such bomb. Four other men on the list of those clearing the fences in four or more straight postseason games—Carlos Beltran (five in 2004), Evan Longoria (four in 2008), Juan Gonzalez (four in 1996), and Jeffrey Leonard (four in 1987)—had at least three 20+ home run seasons before turning those tricks. Murphy’s lifetime per-162 home run average is eleven.
It also makes Murphy only the third man to hit home runs against the regular season’s leaders in wins (Arrieta), ERA (Zack Greinke), and strikeouts (Clayton Kershaw) and the first to do it against three different such leaders. Hall of Famer Frank Thomas did it against Johan Santana in 2006, a year Santana led the majors in those three categories; and, Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle did it against Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in 1963, the first of three years Koufax led the majors in those three.
Murphy is now also the only player who’s ever homered against Arrieta, Greinke, Kershaw, and Jon Lester in the postseason without having done it even once in regular season play. Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gonzalez have done it in regular season play.
And he’s making it difficult to impossible for the Mets to imagine life without him after this postseason journey is over. Murphy can become a free agent after the season. If you didn’t know that, you weren’t paying attention to the average four mentions per game of it by assorted game announcers.
Or to the reportage that cites sources inside the Mets as saying that, for all his postseason derring-do, Murphy is liable to be the odd man out while Dilson Herrera looks more to be the Mets second baseman of the future, and Wilmer Flores looks to be a reasonable candidate to hold that fort until Herrera’s arrival.
With Murphy just about the talk of baseball these hours you could forget too readily that Noah Syndergaard stepped up, started, and threw shutout ball at the Cubs until the sixth inning, when Kris Bryant ripped one off the left field wall to score Dexter Fowler with the Cubs’ only run of the game. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was always just enough.
“I wish I could have gotten ahead of hitters a little bit better,” Syndergaard said after the game, “but it makes pitching a lot more easy when you go out there and the offense puts a three-spot on one of the best pitchers in the game.”
You could also forget too readily Granderson’s Flying Wallendas act in the second, when he stole a one-out home run from Chris Coghlan by scaling the fence in perfect timing and grabbing it over the wall. “I was able to time it up and reel it in,” Granderson said, almost as nonchalantly as a seasoned fisherman explaining how he conquered a fighting marlin off the coast.
Or, Granderson building the Mets’ insurance run in the third when he stole second as Wright struck out, stole third after a free pass to Murphy when he beat a tag on a close throw, then came home as Cubs shortstop Javier Baez mishandled Yoenis Cespedes’s bounder with both runners going on the pitch.
Or, the Mets’ bullpen keeping the Cubs quiet enough, starting with Jonathon Niese’s side-retiring strikeout of Anthony Rizzo after the Cubs scored their only run, continuing with Addison Reed’s three-up-three-down seventh, moving on to Tyler Clippard ignoring Fowler’s two-out single by luring a short fly out by Kyle Schwarber to end the eighth, and Jeurys Familia shaking off a one-out fielding miscue at first base—he hadn’t arrived in time to cover on Rizzo’s chopper to first—to end it with a pair of infield outs.
Not to mention Familia entering the Mets’ record books. He’s the first Met to record four saves in a single postseason. The prior record was three, shared by Billy Wagner, Armando Benitez, and Tug McGraw.
All of which paled next to the latest execution of the new Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go right for the Mets, will. Murphy doesn’t have to be at the plate for every one of those things, but they haven’t complained when he is. Yet.
The Cubs aren’t exactly believers in it just yet.
“When you think about both games we played here,” Coghlan said, “that’s the difference in the game in both of them—the first inning. Things went their way. They got the big hit. And then they just held us in check.”
“Maybe the day off will cool them off,” Rizzo said. Momentarily, he may have forgotten who gets the ball for the Mets in Game Three. Some kid named deGrom.