LOS ANGELES -- The seeds of one of the more impactful plays in Mets history formed in Daniel Murphy's mind in the fourth inning of National League Division Series Game 5 on Thursday, as Lucas Duda stepped to the plate with one out. While the Dodgers' defense shifted to counter Duda's pull-hitting tendencies, Murphy -- a player oft-criticized for a brand of baserunning that is opportunistic at best, reckless at worst -- led off first and glanced across the diamond, where third base stood completely uncovered.
When Duda walked to force him to second, Murphy watched Zack Greinke stalk toward home plate, paying him no heed. He watched shortstop Corey Seager kick the dirt around second base, and the seeds grew in his brain. With no one else in the vicinity, Murphy began sprinting around the corner toward third.
It was far too late by the time anyone noticed; Murphy was nearly there, set to score the game-tying run in a 3-2 victory that clinched the Mets' spot in the NL Championship Series.
"You never know what to expect with Murph," said third baseman David Wright, the only Mets player with more tenure than Murphy has. "Just an incredibly heads-up play -- a game-changing play. Just incredible. In a playoff game, that's the difference."
Years from now, box scores will focus on the fact that Murphy homered three times in the series, twice off Clayton Kershaw and once off Greinke -- a sixth-inning solo shot that gave the Mets the lead for good in Game 5. Each one of those homers was "monumental," as Wright put it, in a series that saw most of New York's big-name bats scuffle.
But it was Murphy's stolen base in the fourth inning that changed the game and the series, resulting in a tying run that the Mets otherwise might never have scored. With a man on third base and one out, Murphy scored easily on Travis d'Arnaud's ensuing sacrifice fly down the right-field line.
"Unbelievable," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "When he's on the bases, he's always trying to take an extra base. Sometimes not at the best times, but tonight was at the best time."
"If it wasn't for that," Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal said, "we'd probably still be playing."
When Andre Ethier caught d'Arnaud's fly ball, he was standing in foul territory, and based on math, he would have been better off letting the ball drop, as it would have set up an 0-2 count with a strikeout pitcher facing a strikeout-prone hitter. The Mets' win probability was 47.1 percent after Ethier caught that ball, and it would have been 40.8 percent percent if he let it drop.
In the Mets' postgame clubhouse, players gathered around Murphy, spraying him with projectile champagne, one teammate dumping it over his head as he raised both fists in the air. They understood the extent to which Murphy had carried them, homering off Kershaw in Game 1, then again in Game 4, then again off Greinke in Game 5. Tack on an RBI double in the first inning and Murphy hit .333 in the series, including a 6-for-12 line off those two pitchers. He became just the seventh player to homer off both Kershaw and Greinke since the latter joined the Dodgers in 2013, and the first to do it in a single postseason series.
Asked to describe Thursday's homer, Murphy replied that it came with "a level of surprise and euphoria," searching for the right phrasing.
"I'm not much of a wordsmith," Murphy said. "It was awesome."
Had Murphy, a pending free agent, not accomplished what he did, Game 5 could have been his last with the Mets. And it might have been sour. Never in his eight seasons here has Murphy consistently been able to escape criticism, playing out of position on defense and running into out after out on the bases. Scouts spent years begrudging his lack of power. Coaches questioned his baseball IQ.
So it was only fitting that Murphy's signature play with the Mets, perhaps for eternity, was an aggressive baserunning maneuver that changed the course of October.
"We won," Murphy said, grinning. "It's awesome. There's no other way to describe it."