Daniel Murphy’s clutch hitting sends Mets past Dodgers and into NLCS
1:12 | MLB
Daniel Murphy’s clutch hitting sends Mets past Dodgers and into NLCS
Friday October 16th, 2015

The New York Mets defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 3–2 on Thursday night in Game 5 of the National League Division Series to advance to the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. Here are three quick thoughts off the game:

Murphy and Turner

After victimizing Clayton Kershaw with solo homers in Games 1 and 4, Daniel Murphy turned into Zack Greinke’s archnemesis in Game 5, and capitalized on multiple Dodger mistakes. In the first inning, Murphy drove in Curtis Granderson with a ringing double off the centerfield wall, then took third when Kiké Hernandez fumbled the ball while trying to pick it up. Murphy advanced no further, though, because Greinke reared back and struck out both Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda.

After collecting a leadoff single in the fourth, Murphy took second on a walk and then alertly stole third when he realized the bag was uncovered due to the shifted infield—Justin Turner was to the right of second base—and came home on Travis d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly into foul territory; had Andre Ethier avoided the ball, it would have merely been a foul. In the sixth, Murphy broke a 2–2 tie by clouting a 93-mph fastball that Greinke left in the center of the plate 381 feet into the rightfield corner.

That run proved to be the margin of victory. For the series, Murphy collected a team-high seven hits in 20 at-bats. His five RBIs tied Granderson for the team high.

Just as Murphy seemed to be in the center of the Mets’ action, in Game 5 and at key points elsewhere in the series, so too did Turner, his former teammate from 2010 to ’13, for the Dodgers. Turner went 10 for 19 with a division-series record six doubles, collecting multiple hits in every contest but Game 4, the one in which he drove in two of the Dodgers’ three runs and made a stellar backhanded play to help Kershaw slay the seventh-inning dragon.

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In the first inning of Game 5, Turner collected the third of the team’s four straight singles against starter Jacob deGrom, driving in the game-tying run. In the third inning, he doubled and stole third, as if to remind the Mets that he was non-tendered because one of their executives thought he didn’t hustle enough (manager Terry Collins disagreed). In the fifth, he collected another double, as leftfielder Michael Conforto appeared to lose the ball in the lights. Not until the seventh, when Noah Syndergaard—pitching in relief for the first time in his major-league career—struck him out to nip a potential rally in the bud, did the Mets figure out a way to shut him down.

deGrom bends but doesn’t break

Utterly dominant with 13 strikeouts in seven shutout innings in Game 1, deGrom struggled from the get-go in Game 5. His velocity was down about one mile-an-hour from the 97- to 98-mph range in his adrenaline-fueled first inning at Dodger Stadium, but worse, his command wasn’t nearly as sharp, and he coughed up the 1–0 lead to which he’d been staked. After leadoff hitter Howie Kendrick lined out to first base, the Dodgers plated plated two runs on singles by Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Turner and Ethier, off-setting the run driven in by Murphy.

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​deGrom needed 27 pitches to escape the first, and he was in such trouble in the second and third, allowing two base runners in each frame before getting the second out, that Collins got Syndergaard, who started Game 2, throwing in the bullpen. deGrom extricated himself from the second inning by striking out Seager and Gonzalez and summoned a 1-6-3 double play to end the third. By that point, he’d already thrown 59 pitches, but he settled down. In all, he held the Dodgers to 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position, and 0 for 11 after those two runs scored. Of his 105 pitches, 57 were made with runners in scoring position, yet he escaped having allowed just the two runs in six innings, striking out seven while walking three.

Syndergaard, for his part, gave the Mets one scoreless inning, blemished only by a two-out walk to Gonzalez; he averaged 99.4 mph with his four-seamer according to Brooks Baseball, compared to 98.7 mph in Game 2. Jeurys Familia pitched the final two innings for the save, retiring all six hitters he faced, a stint that forced him to bat in the top of the ninth, for the first time all season—against Kenley Jansen, no less, with men on first and second. Needless to say, he struck out.

deGrom’s opposite number, Greinke, was very good but not quite great, allowing three runs in 6 2/3 innings. He generated a whopping 19 swings and misses from among his 103 pitches, but the two balls that Murphy hit hard cost him dearly. Amazingly enough, it was the first time all year that Greinke lost a game after being given a lead; he was 19–0 to that point. The Dodgers have to wonder if Greinke has worn their uniform for the last time, as he has an opt-out on the final three years of his six-year, $147 million contract and could net a deal even larger than that.

Ethier vs. Mattingly

In the bottom of the third inning, the TBS cameras showed Ethier in an animated argument with manager Don Mattingly.

In the booth, the TBS crew—Ernie Johnson, Cal Ripken Jr. and Ron Darling—speculated that the manager had said something to his rightfielder regarding his failure to move Turner from second to third following his leadoff double with a grounder to the right side. Instead, Ethier hit the ball in the air, lining out to leftfield, and while Turner ended up stealing third, he did not score. After the game, Mattingly said that Ethier was angry about an umpire’s call.

“There was nothing there … I was trying to settle him down. ‘Dre was pretty emotional.”

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​Perhaps it was only a coincidence then, but from that moment, it was all downhill for the Dodgers. Via FanGraphs, their Win Expectancy following Turner’s double was 73.7%. It dipped to 69.9% with Ethier’s out, climbed to 74.4% with Turner’s steal and Yasmani Grandal’s walk, then trended downward the rest of the way. Murphy’s homer swung Los Angeles’s WinEx from 53.2% to 34.3%, and it never got back above 40%.

Under the circumstances—an overcrowded outfield, a player who rebounded after two subpar seasons, a manager who has been unable to win a playoff series in either of the past two years despite teams with record-setting payrolls—one has to wonder if it’s the last game in Dodger blue for either Ethier or Mattingly, or both. It’s a lousy way to end a 92-win season, but an inevitable one given the falloff beyond the Dodgers’ big two starters, their shaky bullpen and an offense with so many hitters seemingly at sea.

That shouldn’t overshadow the Mets’ accomplishment, with their first season above .500 since 2008, and their first playoff appearance—and series victory—since 2006. Given the depth of their starting pitching, and an offense that showed it could outlast two of the game’s top pitchers, they figure to give the Cubs a very interesting battle in the NLCS.

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