Friday, October 16, 2015

The Saga Continues...

Every Postseason, I write something about how October is a different beast, and things that happen a certain way during the regular season never seem to follow the same script. Players who are usually counted on to come through scuffle and other, lesser players step into the spotlight because it's simply their time. The Playoffs chose them.

Your Playoff Chosen Met for 2015 is none other than Daniel Murphy.

To say that I've given Daniel Murphy a hard time this season would be kind. I'd say that over the past several years, I've raked Murphy over the coals countless times, and deservedly so. He's been here for a long time and for the most part has if nothing else been there on the team. Never has he done anything special and often has he done things that make you scratch your head and wonder what the hell he's doing in the Major Leagues, because he makes mistakes that a veteran ballplayer shouldn't make. It's nothing more than a desire to perform well, but with Murphy, things like that just never seemed to work.

And then the calendar flips to October and all of a sudden everything falls into place for Daniel Murphy, because of course it did. Murphy hit Home Runs off of Clayton Kershaw in Games 1 and 4 of the NLDS, in Game 3, he drove in a key run off another lefty, he played mistake-free in the field, and all of that was merely the prelude to what he did in the decisive Game 5 last night. And that's the beauty of Major League Baseball.

Murphy interjected himself into the game rather early. After replay showed Curtis Granderson beat out a ground ball into an overshifted infield, Murphy came up and drove a Zack Greinke offering over everyone's head, off the wall for an RBI double to give the Mets an early lead. Yes, he was stranded there. But if nothing else he'd broken the ice and made the statement that even if the Mets had looked lifeless on Tuesday night, they weren't dead yet.

This was important, because Jacob deGrom had to battle and battle hard to get himself through this game. The Dodgers banged out a series of ringing hits in the last of the 1st inning, plating two runs of their own and appeared ready for the kill before deGrom got his bearings and struck out Yasmani Grandal and Enrique Hernandez. deGrom, of course, had to get his bearings back all night long lest the game get away from him, but whenever he absolutely needed to make a pitch, he did. 2 men on in the 2nd, he struck out Seager and Adrian Gonzalez. 1st and 3rd in the 3rd, he got a Double Play. More of the same in the 4th and 5th.

Meanwhile, the Mets still had to try and solve Greinke, and of course Daniel Murphy was the one who did it, because, again, that's Baseball, and he'd been chosen. Murphy led off the 4th inning with a single, his 2nd hit of the night. Cespedes flied out, but Lucas Duda subsequently drew a walk, which tells you absolutely nothing about the intricacy of what actually happened. The Dodgers, as is their wont, swung their infielders way over to the right side with Duda at the plate, essentially leaving 3rd base uncovered. When Duda took Ball 4, it seems that rather than return to their traditional positions, Corey Seager and Justin Turner decided to kick the dirt and hang their heads. Murphy made some sort of mental note about this, and as he approached 2nd base, he decided to go for it, took off for 3rd base.

Now, had Daniel Murphy tried to pull off a stunt like this in the regular season, he probably would have been thrown out by 20 feet and we'd spend the remainder of the game talking about "The Typical Murphy Play," where he tries to do too much and ends up making a mistake.

But because it's the Playoffs, and Murphy was chosen, nobody's paying attention, Murphy's safe by miles and then he scores the tying run when Travis d'Arnaud hits a sacrifice fly.

And, of course, for good measure, Murphy comes up in the 6th, takes a middle-in mistake from Greinke and blasts it out into the Right Field seats and gives the Mets the lead they'd been chasing since the 1st inning.

Now with a lead came the tension, because there were still 12 outs to get and deGrom hadn't thrown a clean inning all game. Still, although it seemed like there were 3 or 4 times when it looked like he was going to cave, and certainly Noah Syndergaard appeared to be warming up every inning between the 3rd and the 6th, he just kept on plowing through and eventually he got through the 6th inning, and of course that 6th inning was his only clean inning. By that point, I'd started thinking about how to piece together the final 3 innings. Syndergaard, in my opinion, would have been a good choice were it the 4th or 5th. But deGrom somehow got through 6 and now I was thinking that the Mets would be wise to just throw the sink out there in the 7th, and hope someone can get some outs, and then let Familia throw the 8th and 9th. Or maybe just let Colon go out there and work his magic. Or just say screw it and tell Familia to get a 9-out Save. But Syndergaard ended up being the call, and it seems that warming up so many times really didn't bother him much because outside of walking Gonzalez, which was probably the safe thing to do, and then he made Justin Turner, who by that point had 3 hits in the game and was hitting about .970 for the series, look silly on a curve in the dirt for an inning-ending strikeout.

Syndergaard looked so good, in fact, that I then mused that maybe HE should go back out there for the 8th. Collins, of course, disagreed with me, which is just as well and the results proved once again why he's a Major League Manager and I'm sitting on my couch picking my nose. Familia came in for the 8th, in a situation where a double-switch might have been in order with the pitcher's spot due up 5th in the 9th inning. But the guy he was double-switching in, Juan Lagares, hit before the Pitcher's spot anyway. I'm assuming Collins just said "Fuck it," and went with his guy. Familia retired the Dodgers on 9 pitches in the 8th. Of course, the Mets then got a couple of men on in the 9th inning, resulting in Familia having to take a turn at bat, but the way the game was going at that point it was probably more advantageous to have Familia in the game as opposed to cocking around with the rest of the bullpen with no margin for error just to get to him. Familia struck out, went back out to the mound and polished off the Dodgers with another 1-2-3 inning, finishing things off by quick-pitching Howie Kendrick for the final strikeout and, amazingly, sending the Mets off to the NLCS with a 3-2 victory.

That did happen, didn't it?

That seems to be something I've been saying a lot about the Mets recently, but it's happened. They went from nowhere to Division Champions to a do-or-die game on the road and they won that too. They won with their best pitcher pitching with less than his best stuff. They won by virtue of the heady play of a guy known best for being decidedly un-heady. They won because their #2 starter was turned into a 1-inning terminator for a night. And they won because the Closer who wasn't supposed to be the Closer when this thing started came into the game needing 6 outs to get the biggest Save of his life, and Goddammit, he went and did it. In the Playoffs, you need not only the random luck but the skill to take advantage of it, and that's basically how the Mets won this series. They took advantage of whatever break they got and that's how they were able to tilt things in their favor.

So, the story continues for the Mets. Even though 24 hours ago I felt truly miserable at the prospect of the game and went through the day on Thursday suffering the side effects of Pennant Fever, everything of course felt much better after they locked down the win. Next, then, is the Cubs, and perhaps these are two teams that could be mirror images of each other, at least considering the way they've been put together. To say nothing of the spate of Cubs fan run-ins I'm sure to be subjected to over the coming days. Have I mentioned I'm not especially fond of the Cubs?

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