NEW YORK -- It took roughly two weeks for Daniel Murphy to transform from what he was into something greater. Murphy's seven home runs in the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series made him, in a fortnight, one of the most beloved players in Mets franchise history. Fans began calling him "Babe Murphy," ignoring his flaws. Talk-radio hosts debated how many millions he had earned himself this winter. Columnists earnestly discussed his place in history.
It then took seconds for much of that to evaporate into the darkness of Halloween night. Charging in from second base to field a grounder in the eighth inning of World Series Game 4 on Saturday, Murphy simply missed. Between its third and fourth hops, the ball scooted under his glove, dribbling toward the lip of the right-field grass. Ben Zobrist scored. Lorenzo Cain advanced to third. And the Royals plated the go-ahead run moments later in a 5-3 win, dropping the Mets to the type of 3-1 Series deficit that no one has surmounted in 30 years.
This was not Bill Buckner reborn at Citi Field -- the degree of difficulty was higher, the championship not already in reach. But it was a goof, Murphy freely admits. Had he successfully fielded Eric Hosmer's chopper, Murphy would have given closer Jeurys Familia a second-and-third situation with two outs and a one-run lead. Instead, he created a first-and-third mess with one out in a tie game, and the Royals -- as they have proven masterful at doing throughout this postseason -- turned that crack into a chasm.
"It's experience," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It's character. It's a group of really, really talented players. But a lot of it I think is a mindset. We're in the biggest stage that you can play in front of, and these guys are totally confident in their abilities. They're as cool as cucumbers."
Afterward, the Mets tried to downplay the impact of Murphy's error. They pointed to the fact that they have their three best pitchers -- Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard -- scheduled to start Games 5-7. They talked about all the other things they could have done better, from Tyler Clippard's wildness to Yoenis Cespedes' fundamentals to too many oh-fers in the middle of their lineup. They referenced the fact that of the 43 teams to fall into 3-1 deficits in best-of-seven World Series, five of them -- so you're saying there's a chance -- did come back to win.
They talked also about the notion that if not for Murphy, the Mets might never have reached this point. Homering off Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the NLDS, then Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and others in the NLCS, Murphy transformed into something he had never been before. Long a contact-oriented infielder without a true defensive position, Murphy hung around the Majors for the better part of a decade in spite of his weaknesses. Yes, he made enough fundamental changes to his game to become an improved power hitter this season, but at some point Murphy was bound to regress to the mean.
The Mets just never could have expected that to take the form of a World Series-changing error, the ball frozen in time between its third and fourth hops. Nor were they willing to blame him for it, with the wound still fresh and its implications plain to see.
"Daniel Murphy's been out of this world this entire postseason," third baseman David Wright said. "This is not Daniel Murphy's fault. This is the New York Mets' fault that we lost this game."