Max Muncy dropped the bat and stood there watching the baseball sail toward the right-field seats, a thing of beauty. This might just be his signature moment for a World Series that has become his own personal stage.
Sure, he’s sharing it with a long list of others as the Dodgers are one victory away from winning their first Fall Classic in 32 years. They defeated the Rays, 4-2, on Sunday to take a 3-2 lead. Game 6 is Tuesday, and if Game 7 is necessary, it’ll be Wednesday.
Back to that home run. Sometimes, you just know. Muncy had connected so solidly that the crack of the bat made an emphatic sound, the kind a hitter will remember for years.
Rays starter Tyler Glasnow had thrown him a 99 mph fastball, and Muncy sent it over the wall in right with a breathtaking 111.5 mph exit velocity. Somewhere, 434 feet from home plate, the ball rattled around the stands at Globe Life Field as Muncy gave the Dodgers, who were leading 3-2 at the time, a bit of breathing room.
“Man, that one felt pretty good,” he said. “It’s one of those things where there's not too many times you're going to connect 100 mph right in the middle of a barrel. It just felt really solid. Thankfully, I got it in the air, though, and didn’t have to worry about running too hard.”
Muncy might be the Dodgers’ most underrated player. He plays multiple positions, draws tons of walks to put himself on base for the sluggers and relentlessly deflects attention.
When he’s asked about statistics, he mentions just two: walks and wins.
“I say all the time that the stats and all that kind of stuff doesn't matter to me,” he said. “Except for maybe walks, just because that means I'm getting on base and I'm giving my team a chance to score runs. All I care about is winning. It’s the postseason. That's all any of us care about. I say all the time, we don't matter, the team matters.”
After a regular season that was not his best, Muncy is playing the best baseball of his life. In 17 postseason games, he has a .461 on-base percentage with 12 runs in 17 games.
He’s hitting .389 in the World Series with a -- wait for it -- .522 OBP and 1.133 OPS. In Game 4 on Sunday, he drew a walk in the first inning, singled in the third (109 mph exit velocity) and connected for the home run in the fifth. He has done enough to put himself in the World Series Most Valuable Player Award conversation.
His first-inning walk on Sunday was his 20th of the postseason, tying him with Gary Sheffield for second-most in a single postseason, trailing only Barry Bonds (27 in 2002).
Muncy is one of the Dodgers’ sweetest success stories and a tribute to both their player-development tools and to Muncy’s relentless will to succeed. His career was at a crossroads when the A’s released him in the spring of 2017. He signed a Minor League contract with the Dodgers and spent an entire season rebuilding his swing mechanics.
In three seasons since, he has an .888 OPS and 87 home runs. He has started games at four positions and prides himself on sweating the small stuff.
For instance, when Manuel Margot attempted to steal home and tie the score at 3 in the fourth inning on Sunday, it was Muncy who recognized what was happening from first base and sprinted toward Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw yelling, “Home! Home!” Kershaw calmly stepped off the mound and threw out Margot at the plate.
The Dodgers won Game 5 after suffering a late meltdown loss in Game 4. Muncy said there was zero carryover. As for looking down the road to contemplate winning a championship, he’s not ready to go there.
“Ask me that tomorrow,” he said. “Right now, we’re still just glad we won, and we’re gonna start focusing on the first pitch for the next game. We’re not gonna try not to get ahead of ourselves too much. Tomorrow might be a different story with the off-day, but you know, for right now, let’s keep taking care of business. The job’s not finished.”