Long's influence sparked Murphy's record run
KANSAS CITY -- There is a randomness to baseball that can't be quantified, no matter how much we try. Pitches that break bats sometimes lead to hits that find holes, while line drives that are smoked turn into outs. That's part of what makes the game so beguiling.
But behind the scenes, a lot of hard work goes into what we see in October. It always does.
For instance, the Royals banged David Price's changeup because their advance scouts had noticed he was tipping the pitch when he threw it out of the stretch. The Mets ran on the Cubs because, well, you couldn't help but notice that the stolen base was often available if you wanted it.
And unlikely hero Daniel Murphy has been on one of the hottest tears anyone has ever seen in October because he spent Spring Training and the regular season working daily with Kevin Long, the Mets' first-year hitting coach who migrated across town from the Yankees.
"Get your foot down on time. Use your legs."
Long and Pat Roessler, the Mets' assistant coach, emphasized those two points over and over, then over and over again.
Somewhere along the way, they unlocked Murphy's power, and the Royals are going to have to find a way to stop him if they're going to win the World Series to lessen the pain of being foiled by Madison Bumgarner last October.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon says Murphy is hotter than even Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series, when he hit four homers and the Angels walked him 13 times. The Mets second baseman has a chance in Game 1 of the World Series to homer in a seventh consecutive game, something only six players have ever done at any point in the season, and he's hit all of his against the Cubs and Dodgers in the postseason.
"He's been very, very hot," Royals manager Ned Yost said on Monday. "We talked about in our advance meeting how he stands on top of the plate like Barry Bonds did. So when you're on that kind of run like he is, he's very hot. He's seeing the ball well. You better execute pitches, and that's what we're going to try to do."
Murphy, 30, has always been a high-average hitter without much power. He had hit only 48 home runs in 773 games with the Mets before this season, when he set a career high with 14. Nine of those came in the second half of the season, hinting, ever so softly, at the flurry of long balls he has delivered in the postseason.
In the National League Division Series, he homered twice off Clayton Kershaw and once off Zack Greinke. He homered against Jon Lester in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series, Jake Arrieta in Game 2, Kyle Hendricks in Game 3 and Fernando Rodney in Game 4.
It would have been fun to see one of the game's great sluggers, a guy like Mickey Mantle, bask in the glow of such a prolific run. But Murphy isn't used to the kind of attention this has brought him.
"Lot of fun," Murphy said Monday. "It's been fun. This is a great group of guys. To be able to spend the last eight months, starting in Spring Training, with this group of men has truly been a humbling experience. Hopefully we can continue to play good baseball here."
Thanks to the work of Long and Roessler, Murphy will be prepared for what he sees when Edinson Volquez starts Game 1 for the Royals. It's safe to say the Mets were thrilled to hire Long when he was dismissed at the end of the 2014 season, ending an eight-year run with the Yankees.
"I'd heard a lot of good things about him through the years, especially in New York," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I knew some guys that had worked with him in the past, spoke extremely highly of him, and what a hard worker he is. ... I'm extremely thrilled that he's been here. He's done an outstanding job, even during the tough times when we weren't scoring runs."
Collins said the tough part for all coaches to get players to "buy into" their ideas.
"But when you see his passion for hitting and how he cares about it, the players just eventually buy into it," Collins said. "We're seeing it with Dan Murphy right now."
When Long was hired by the Mets, he put together a plan for all their hitters. He said he believed there was a way for Murphy to maintain his ability to make contact and hit for average while adding some power.
The key, Long believed, was getting Murphy to move closer to the plate, driving his legs more toward the pitcher and getting his front foot down sooner. He worried whether Murphy would embrace the suggestions, but he didn't have to worry long, as they made sense to Murphy.
"I think a lot of it boils down to Kevin being so prepared," Murphy said. "He came into Spring Training, he knew everybody's swing, had already broken it down, everybody in camp. He was really prepared. It really helped lay the foundation of what he wanted to do, how to communicate with everybody individually."
Through the Mets' nine postseason games, Murphy has hit .421 with 11 RBIs and a 1.026 slugging percentage to go with those seven home runs. The one stat that draws your attention is his walks.
Murphy has been walked once. That's 26 times fewer times than Bonds was during his stunning run in 2002.
Yost says the key in facing a hitter as hot as Murphy is to "execute pitches." Perhaps it's time that some of those are far enough outside of the strike zone that Murphy can't hit them into a fountain.
Or the Royals can take their chances, just like the Cubs did. Maybe some of his line drives will go into gloves. We never know, do we?