Mets second baseman first player to go deep in six consecutive postseason games
By Barry M. Bloom
CHICAGO -- Long after the game was over, a couple thousand fans stood cheering behind the Mets' dugout at Wrigley Field and broke into the standard "MVP, MVP," chant as Daniel Murphy rejoined the group celebrating on the field.
Murphy had just hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning of his club's 8-3 victory in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, punctuating the sweep of the Cubs and the fifth NL pennant in franchise history.
In a "believe it or not" moment, it was Murphy's seventh home run of this postseason and sixth in successive games, breaking a record that was set by Carlos Beltran when he played for the Astros in 2004.
The streak spans the last two games of New York's five-game victory over the Dodgers in the NL Division Series and all four games of their just-concluded NLCS. The World Series begins on Tuesday night in either Toronto or Kansas City (on FOX), and even Murphy doesn't know what's coming next.
Murphy, heretofore a .288 lifetime hitter who was moved to second base just to get his bat in the lineup, was the obvious choice as the series' MVP.
"Murphy? Murphy was locked in, man. Murphy was unpitchable," said Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, who watched much of the left-handed hitter's performance from behind the plate. "Pretty much, he's the best hitter in the game in October."
No kidding. Murphy was 4-for-5 in Game 4 and batted .529 (9-for-17) in the series with a double, four homers, six RBIs and six runs scored. His slugging percentage for the four games was a gaudy 1.294. Murphy had a .424 lifetime slugging percentage and a .755 OPS coming into the postseason.
It was no wonder, as he sat there with the glass and gold MVP trophy on the table in front of him, there was no way to erase the smile off his bearded face.
"That was a lot of fun," Murphy said. "I think the group of guys in [the clubhouse} makes it that much more fun when each guy cares for the guy next to him. You get so excited when you're able to come together and accomplish something like this.
"We know there are still some more wins we want to get our hands on, so we're going to enjoy this right now, and when you see everybody get a piece of it, it makes it very special."
Murphy may be the most unlikely character in baseball history to have accomplished such a stunning feat, considering that he had 14 homers this past regular season and only 62 in 3,619 plate appearances over seven seasons.
Murphy's seven homers gave him the Mets' record over Mike Piazza, who took the 1999-2000 postseasons to hit five. Piazza had 427 homers -- with 394 hit as a catcher, the most ever at that position. Beltran has 392 and is still going with the Yankees.
Again on Wednesday night, Murphy claimed to be baffled by the sudden power outburst for a guy who didn't have much.
"I can't explain it," he said. "It's just such a blessing to be able to contribute to what we've been able to do. I really can't explain it. It's just a complete blessing, and that's the only way I can describe it. Almost every one of the homers has helped win a ballgame. I'm excited to be able to do something to help us, but I can't explain it."
Actually, there's a very logical explanation for it, and Bob Geren, the team's bench coach, offered some keen insight. Murphy has spent long hours in the batting cage with hitting coach Kevin Long. The plate is broken down by numbered quadrants, and Long has Murphy hit to each one of those quadrants, one through seven.
"He's such a tough hitter. He has such good hand-eye coordination. He's one of the toughest guys in the league to strike out," said Geren, noting that Murphy whiffed only 38 times this past season in 538 plate appearances. "He's been so consistent, and when he gets that hot, it's just amazing."
There's also a sequence of colored balls and objects, which, when thrown to a hitter, helps increase his acuity.
"It's visual training," Geren said. "They work on everything."
That might explain why, when Murphy was looking for a series of changeups from Cubs reliever Fernando Rodney on Wednesday night, he was able to instantly adjust to a fastball and hit it out to dead center field.
"He threw two heaters, and the second one exploded on me," Murphy said. "So now I don't know what to look for. I might as well stay on the changeup because I don't have the fastball measured. And he threw another heater and I just swung. I should have taken it.
"And I hit it, I said, 'Oh, my goodness.' When Dexter [Fowler] went after it, I thought he was going to catch it. But then the netting caught it. I don't know. I can't explain it."
At this point, Murphy doesn't have to explain it. As Montero said, he's locked in. And there's a World Series around the corner to see if he can remain in that stratosphere.