LOS ANGELES -- The strangest thing is happening with Justin Turner: He is turning into this larger-than-life player. It was miraculous enough that Turner became a regular in the big leagues. And then it was another miracle when he became good enough to move into the middle of the Dodgers'
LOS ANGELES -- The strangest thing is happening with Justin Turner: He is turning into this larger-than-life player. It was miraculous enough that Turner became a regular in the big leagues. And then it was another miracle when he became good enough to move into the middle of the Dodgers' lineup. And then, yet another miracle, he became an All-Star.
But this ... there's an aura building around the guy now.
:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::
"He's never off balance," Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. "He's rarely fooled. It looks to me like he's up there taking batting practice."
"There's just not a weakness when he hits," said Turner's teammate, Clayton Kershaw. "That's probably the biggest thing. Just looking at him from a pitcher standpoint, I don't really know where you can throw a fastball in the strike zone to get him out."
"He has that poise for the big moment," added Dodger manager Dave Roberts said.
This is how baseball people have talked about the postseason legends, how they talked about Lou Brock or Reggie Jackson or George Brett or Jose Pujols. And this is the crazy stratosphere that Turner now enters. And it is just so wildly unlikely.
• Shop for postseason gear
Friday night, Turner took over another postseason game, a 9-5 win over the D-backs in Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.
In the first inning, he mashed a three-run homer that essentially ended Arizona's hopes before they had even built up. In the third inning, he cracked an RBI single that gave the Dodgers a five-run lead and stifled whatever small comeback hopes Arizona might have been nursing. And in the eighth, he grounded a run-scoring single through the infield, and that gave him five RBIs, which tied him with beloved Dodgers Pedro Guerrero and Davey Lopes for the most in a postseason game in franchise history.
The crazy part is this is just what the Dodgers have come to expect from Turner -- especially in the postseason. He's now hitting .383 in the postseason and slugging .667. People are just expecting him to dominate October.
And it's so easy to forget that this is a player who had been chewed up and spit out again and again by this game. The Dodgers are loaded with players who were destined to be stars long before they ever became stars. They are everywhere you look. Shortstop Corey Seager was the best prospect in the game and then the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year. Cody Bellinger was one of the best prospects in the game and he'll likely be the unanimous Rookie of the Year this season. Yasiel Puig sparked a gigantic bidding war before he ever played in a single Minor League baseball game. Kershaw was in the big leagues at age 20 and he won his first Cy Young Award at 23.
Turner, meanwhile, was a non-prospect. Even his college coach at Cal-State Fullerton, George Horton, who loves Turner like a son, conceded that by pure talent Turner was "a below average runner, below average this, below average that." Cincinnati threw him into a multi-player trade for a backup catcher before he ever made the big leagues. Baltimore gave him a handful of big league at-bats before releasing him.
The New York Mets picked him off the scrap heap when he was 25, and they gave him a chance to be a utility player for three seasons - and the fact that he even got that chance was against the odds. After some time scraping for at-bats, playing wherever they put him, always being ready to pinch-hit, the Mets called Turner up one day in early December 2013 to say they were not bringing him back. They didn't give him a reason.
There were rumors the Mets didn't think he hustled enough.
Boy did that make Turner mad. NOBODY hustled as much as Justin Turner.
For a while, no team showed a lot of interest. It wasn't until just a few days before the 2014 season began that the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him to a Minor League deal. He was 29 years old and seemingly on the brink of a new life as a scout or Minor League manager.
Only, Turner didn't see it that way. He had been working on his swing, working on it obsessively, hours every day. He thought that he had found something in his last month with the Mets, when he hit .357 with some power. He had big ideas.
And then with the Dodgers he was flat amazing. He hit .340 his first year to earn a starting job for the first time in his career. The next year, he played at an All-Star level for much of the season, and in the postseason he turned into Superman, hitting .526 in a crushing playoff series loss to the Mets.
In 2016, he added power to the mix, hitting 27 home runs and getting some MVP votes. He hit .400 in a playoff series against the Nationals.
And then this year was his best year of all. He hit .322, slugging a career-high .530. He also played superb defense and even stole a few bases. Friday night, in the first game of what he hopes will be a long Dodgers postseason, he was legendary.
How does this happen?
"It almost amplifies in the playoffs," Kershaw said of Turner's postseason performance. "He just seems to get that much more locked in."
Kershaw shrugs. He doesn't know how Turner does it. Roberts shrugs. He doesn't know either. So you ask Turner. He shrugs, too.
"You just have not try to do too much," he says. "And make sure you get a good pitch."
Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year.