Cruel twist of fate strikes postseason hero Murphy
NEW YORK -- Sometimes the game has an unimaginably cold heart. Sometimes the baseball gods toy with us in incomprehensible ways. Maybe that's why we love it so.
Suddenly, inexplicably and cruelly, the baseball found Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy in the top of the eighth inning of Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night.
At the time, the New York Mets had a one-run lead and were closing in on a victory that might have turned the whole thing in their favor.
And then ...
Murphy has played a different role this postseason. He carried the Mets' team through two rounds with a couple of the best offensive weeks any player has ever had. Murphy has been one of baseball's consummate professionals, a player whose work ethic and commitment to winning have defined him for seven seasons.
On the other hand, those are the things that were said of Bill Buckner in 1986. Yeah, sometimes the game isn't fair.
On Saturday night, a ground ball scooted beneath Murphy's glove with the game on the line as the Kansas City Royals rallied for three runs and won, 5-3, in front of 44,815 at Citi Field. The Royals now lead the best-of-seven Fall Classic, 3-1.
Murphy's play was a simple one, a play he has made thousands of times before. When it happened, there was stunned silence in the packed ballpark.
"I misplayed it and there's no excuse for it," Murphy said. "We lost the ballgame because of it. It's frustrating. But I'll pick my head up and get ready for tomorrow's ballgame."
When someone mentioned that Murphy probably makes that play a thousand times in a row, he shrugged.
"I didn't make it the only time that counts," Murphy said.
If you're of a certain age, Buckner's name might come to mind. It's appropriate for the time and place. Twenty-nine years ago, the Boston first baseman let a ball skip beneath his glove in Game 6 of the World Series as the Red Sox were on the verge of a championship.
That play in 1986 opened the floodgates for one of the magical moments in Mets history, as New York won Games 6 and 7 for its most recent title.
"In the postseason, you can't give away outs," manager Terry Collins said. "You've got to make outs. You can't give good teams opportunities to score extra runs, because they can do it."
Can the Mets recover from this gut punch? Now the math is simple. After three months of entertaining and smart baseball, they're out of wiggle room.
The Royals, seemingly this team of destiny, hold a commanding World Series lead, and they can win their first title in 30 years as early as Game 5 on Sunday night (8 p.m. ET game time on FOX). If they don't get it then, the World Series will return to Kansas City for Game 6 on Tuesday and, if necessary, Game 7 on Wednesday.
Do not write these Mets off. Don't make that mistake. They've long since proven that they're tough and resilient and confident. Momentum doesn't exist in the postseason.
Every game is like its own individual season. Every pitch, every ground ball matters. Besides that, New York has its three best pitchers -- Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard -- lined up to finish the deal.
"We're in a tough situation, but we're not dead yet," Collins said.
History says it's a tough fight. Teams holding a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven World Series have won 38 of 43 times. No team has rallied from a 3-1 deficit since the Royals came back against the Cardinals in 1985.
The Mets took a 3-2 Game 4 lead into the top of the eighth inning. Reliever Tyler Clippard got the first out and then walked Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain.
Actually, Clippard didn't walk Cain as much as Cain earned it. Cain represents Kansas City at its persistent best. The Royals have scored 33 postseason runs in the eighth inning or later. No other team has scored more than five.
Cain worked an eight-pitch at-bat for a walk. Looking to close the door, Collins went for closer Jeurys Familia to get the final five outs.
Familia has pitched more than an inning 10 times this season, including four times in the postseason. Is that workload taking a toll? On Saturday, he got Eric Hosmer to hit a ground ball that Murphy missed to allow the tying run to score. The closer got Mike Moustakas to hit another ground ball that got through the right side of the infield to get the go-ahead run home. And Salvador Perez got the final run in with a liner to right field.
When it was over, the Mets rallied around Murphy, saying that a game that had dozens and dozens of important moments could not be defined by just one.
After all, if Clippard hadn't walked two hitters, if New York had gotten more than one runner into scoring position after the fifth inning, if this, if that, things might have been different.
"Daniel Murphy did not lose us this game," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "We lost this game, and they took this game from us. Give those guys credit."
That's the thing that the Mets have to put behind them. They took a 2-0 lead into the fifth and a 3-2 lead into the eighth. They've done a good job of protecting these leads, especially in the second half of the season. When they most needed to protect one, it slipped away.
As Wright said, "There's a dozen different things we could have done to win that game. But that's baseball. We just got outplayed."