CHICAGO -- A group of fans standing in the Wrigley Field right-field bleachers during the Nationals' batting practice Friday afternoon cheered each time they caught one of Daniel Murphy's hits. When a fan botched a ball, the group booed.
About 90 minutes later, when Murphy stepped to the plate for the first time during the Nationals' 4-2 win over the Cubs, he sent a 2-1 curveball to that same location as more of the 41,396 fans in attendance joined in on the outcries. Then in the sixth inning, Murphy again received mixed responses when he dispatched a fastball to the opposite side of the stands.
Murphy broke out of his slump in a big way Friday, going 3-for-4 with two home runs.
"He's one of the best in the league," Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. "You've got to pick your poison with him, where you want to pitch him, what you want to throw to him. I was mixing it today, but he was definitely on it, and he's on fire -- like he has been for the last few years."
In his previous 10 contests entering Friday, Murphy went 6-for-32 with one home run. Nationals manager Dusty Baker said he saw Murphy's bat "slowing down," in the midst of a season during which he's hitting .333. So Baker afforded the 32-year-old a day off Wednesday before the team's off-day Thursday.
The rest paid off, as Murphy didn't take long to prove he's still one of the most prolific hitters in the National League. After knocking his first homer off Hendricks to give the Nats a 2-0 lead, Murphy hit his second opposite-field homer since joining the Nationals, and his first since June 17, 2016. He's knocked 44 homers since signing Washington last season.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound second baseman has two multihomer games this season, with the other coming July 16.
"He came out strong," Baker said. "It looked like he was getting a little weary. We gave him the day off, and he responded big time for us."
Murphy's breakout game may not come as a surprise based on his historic numbers at Wrigley Field. Murphy is hitting .411 (39-for-95) with eight home runs and 15 RBIs at the Cubs' stadium, including the postseason.
"I think I only had one at-bat today where there wasn't anybody on base," Murphy said. "And from an offensive perspective, when you have traffic on the basepaths, it puts more pressure on the opposing pitcher. It creates holes that aren't usually there. It's a little tougher for the defense to full-on position you where they want to, because it's a double-play situation."
While the Nationals weren't very worried about Murphy, his production makes the middle of their order -- Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Murphy -- even more dangerous. It also allows Baker more freedom to give each of his star hitters days off leading to October.
Murphy's statistics at Wrigley Field also bode well for the Nats, given they would meet the Cubs in the NLDS if the season ended today.
Murphy didn't make any adjustments during his slide, so his answer to his resurrected performance was simple.
"Hit the ball on the barrel," Murphy said. "You hit it on the barrel, you usually look like you have more bat speed."