Murphy's late-season power spike carries over
After hitting four homers down the stretch, infielder has four homers in postseason
NEW YORK -- If this is, by chance, Daniel Murphy's farewell to the Flushing faithful, he's poised to finish with a flourish.
Murphy, whose go-ahead home run in Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers on Thursday propelled the Mets into the NL Championship Series, picked up right where he left off on Saturday, tattooing an 87-mph cutter from Cubs starter Jon Lester into the right-field seats to give the Mets a first-inning lead in Game 1 of their first NLCS appearance since 2006. New York enjoyed nothing worse than a tie the rest of the way, finishing with a 4-2 victory at a frigid Citi Field.
"I'm not surprised at anything that he does," Mets manager Terry Collins said of his second baseman. "We all know when he gets hot, he can hit anybody, and he can do a lot of damage. And he's hot."
A transformed hitter from the start of the season until now, Murphy continues to mash, this time connecting for a solo shot that Statcast™ calculated at 105 mph off his bat. It landed a projected 386 feet away into the right-field seats, adding another footnote to Murphy's standout postseason.
No Mets player has waited longer for his first postseason appearance than Murphy, who debuted with New York in 2008. And now that he has the stage, Murphy has seized the spotlight.
"He's very good about not missing his pitch when he sees it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I know the ball has to look like at least a softball right now. At least; maybe more to the beach ball variety. He's seeing everything that well."
Murphy has hit four home runs in six postseason games, that power surge following a regular season in which he tallied 14 over 499 at-bats. He joins rare company -- Carlos Delgado (2006), Mike Piazza ('00) and Rusty Staub (1973) -- as the only Mets players to connect for four long balls in one postseason. Murphy has also logged an RBI in five of New York's six playoff games, including one in each of the team's four victories.
By hitting home runs in three consecutive playoff games, Murphy has also done what only one Met -- Donn Clendenon -- had done before him. Clendenon homered in three straight World Series games against Baltimore in 1969. He went on to be named World Series MVP that year.
"He's looking to do damage," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said of a player drafted by the Mets in the 13th round of the 2006 Player Draft. "I don't think this is a phase for him. I think that in some ways he's a fundamentally different hitter than he was as recently as three, four months ago. And the intensity that he has in the playoff situation certainly is evident as well."
The genesis of Murphy's sudden show of power came during in-season cage work he did with hitting coach Kevin Long, who implored Murphy to starting hunting pitches on the middle-inside part of the plate -- pitches Murphy could pull.
Murphy, who had never had a season slugging percentage higher than .448, took to the changes and saw a late spike in power. Over his final 16 games of the regular season, Murphy homered four times.
"I've said it before that if I knew what I was doing, I would have hit more homers during the regular season," Murphy said after Saturday's win. "[Long] really helped me to play as much as I could to one of my biggest strengths, I think, which is I don't swing and miss a lot. So if I can get a good pitch to hit, there is a good chance I should be able to hit it hard."
After hitting just one home run off a lefty during the regular season, Murphy has now done it three times in the postseason. He took Clayton Kershaw deep twice in the NLDS before connecting off Lester, who had allowed just four homers to left-handed batters this year.
Murphy then bookended his night with a diving stop to help closer Jeurys Familia seal the Mets' first victory over the Cubs this season.
With every Mets victory, Murphy can delay the personal decision that is looming. He's about to become a free agent for the first time, and he'll likely have to weigh taking a one-year qualifying offer ($15.8 million) from New York or signing a multi-year deal elsewhere. But while his future may be fuzzy, the present remains very much in focus. And never has Murphy felt more ready for it.
"When he gets locked in, he can do some damage offensively, and you're seeing that right now," teammate David Wright said. "It doesn't matter what they throw at him. He understands when he gets in that kind of zone, the confidence goes up and he can't wait to go up there and hit."