Three of those pitchers are legitimate National League Cy Young Award candidates, and right now, it would hardly be surprising if Murphy was capable of homering off Cy Young himself.
The New York Mets second baseman is having himself one hell of a stretch, and it could hardly have come at a more opportune moment, for him and his team.
Aside from the fact that his bat is nearly single-handedly carrying the Mets to the verge of their first World Series appearance since 2000, Murphy himself is on the verge of entering the free-agent market this winter, and this is the type of October of which legacies — and huge free-agent scores — are made.
This one may result in sending Murphy out of Flushing, and — horror of horrors — maybe across the river to the Bronx, where his left-handed swing could exploit that tantalizingly close right-field fence.
But that is a worry for another day. Wherever Murphy’s October takes him next year must take a backseat to where it might be taking the Mets right now.
Murphy’s two-run home run Sunday in the first inning of the Mets’ 4-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series sent messages all over the place — to the 44,502 people in Citi Field, the largest crowd in the history of the six-year-old ballpark; to his teammates; to Arrieta, who had not allowed three runs in a first inning in more than five years; and especially, to the manager in the visitor’s dugout — that this was perhaps that rarest of sightings, a ballplayer reaching his potential before a lot of eyes on a very big stage.
Certainly, Joe Maddon got the message: In the third inning, with one out and a runner on second, the Cubs manager chose to walk Murphy in favor of pitching to Yoenis Cespedes, who is capable of hitting a baseball halfway to the moon.
As the always-candid Maddon explained his strategy, “I wasn’t going to mess with it.”
And when Cespedes topped an infield hit to shortstop, scoring the Mets’ fourth run of the game, no doubt Maddon must have felt he made the right decision. That’s how good Murphy has been.
“He’s about as locked in as I’ve ever seen a hitter,” said David Wright, who played with another one, Carlos Delgado, who put up Murphy-type numbers in the 2006 postseason only to see it end, ironically and heartbreakingly, with the bat on Beltran’s shoulder.
That year, Delgado hit .351 in 10 playoff games with four home runs, 11 RBIs and a 1.119 OPS. Six years earlier, playing for the Mets team that lost the World Series in five games to the Yankees, Mike Piazza hit .302 with four home runs and eight RBIs in 14 games. And in 1973, Rusty Staub hit .341 with four home runs and 11 RBIs for the Mets team that lost in seven to the Oakland Athletics.
So far, in just seven games, Murphy can put his numbers up against any of them. In those seven games, he has 10 hits in 28 at-bats (.357), five home runs and eight RBIs. His OPS is 1.307. And in the 53-year history of the club, no Met has hit more home runs (five) in postseason play than Murphy has hit in these seven games, and none has ever hit as many in a single postseason.
Still, when asked how it felt to see the Cubs choose to avoid him and pitch to the dangerous Cespedes instead, Murphy said, in all sincerity, “Surprised. Ces hit 35 bombs this year, so yeah, I was surprised.”
He was far more expansive, and colorful, in recounting his third at-bat of the game, when Arrieta caught him looking at a changeup. “Jake got me on that one,” he said. “Undressed me. I gave a little squeal.”
Pressed to show some indication that he is pleased with his performance so far in this first postseason of his major-league life, all Murphy would allow is that, “I’ve been fortunate enough to swing the bat pretty well lately.”
Then again, his numbers have been speaking for him. Murphy is not the type to talk about himself, nor, according to his manager and teammates, about much of anything outside of baseball. He is renowned for being able to recall virtually every moment of every game he’s ever played in, and even of some he hasn’t.
“The first time I met Dan Murphy I was the field coordinator here and I would go down to St. Lucie to see our [minor-league] teams down there,” said Mets manager Terry Collins. “And there would be Daniel Murphy at the rookie league game in the morning and at the St. Lucie game at night. And all he takes about is baseball, so I’m not shocked that he is aware of every single pitch that happens during the game.”
Murphy wasn’t the only reason the Mets won Sunday night, nor why they are just two wins away from their first World Series appearance since 1986. There was rookie Noah Syndergaard stifling the Cubs on two hits, allowing just one run and striking out nine over 5⅔ innings three days after pitching an inning in relief in the NLDS clincher against the Dodgers. There was Curtis Granderson leaping to rob Chris Coghlan of a home run in the second inning, when it was still technically a game. And there was Wright, struggling through a 2-for-23 postseason, driving in the first run of the game with a double over the head of Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler right before Murphy’s home run into the second deck just inside the right-field foul pole.
But right now, there is only one Mets hitter truly striking fear into the hearts of the Chicago Cubs.
“Sooner or later,” Wright said, “they’re going to start pitching around him.”
They already have. And soon, plenty of teams are going to start pitching to Daniel Murphy to come and do for them what he has done for the Mets these past seven games.