PHOTOPHOTOGRAPH BY CHUCK SOLOMON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDMURPHY'S AWE On Sunday, Murphy added Arrieta to his impressive list of postseason homer victims: Clayton Kershaw (twice), Zack Greinke and Lester. If you are to the North Side of Chicago born, the Curse of the Billy Goat has likely loomed over you all your life. A recap for the uninitiated: In 1945 the Cubs, trying to win their first World Series since 1908, kicked a man named Billy Sianis out of Wrigley Field, allegedly due to the aroma of the pet goat he'd brought with him. "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more!" exclaimed the enraged tavern owner, as the story goes. Of course, they haven't. This fall the Cubs are once more within dreaming distance of a championship. It was on the eve of the NLCS, against the Mets, that the Curse of the Billy Goat metamorphosed into something even more sinister. Someone pointed out that the name of Sianis's unwashed caprine friend was Murphy. Then The Wall Street Journal's Jared Diamond pieced together a history of Cubbies-thwarting forces bearing that name. The widely despised owner of the 1908 club, still the last to win a Series? Charles Murphy. The GM of the Mets in 1969, when New York overtook the Cubs for the NL East crown, despite trailing by nine games as late as Aug. 16? Johnny Murphy. The Mets' announcer that year? Bob Murphy. The ballpark in which Chicago lost the decisive game in the '84 NLCS? Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. And, finally, the name of the hero of the Mets' just-completed NLDS against the Dodgers? Daniel Murphy. The Murphy Corollary had been diagnosed before that last Murphy transformed into a certified Cubs killer. In Game 1 of the NLCS last Saturday, the traditionally adequate 30-year-old second baseman hit a first-inning homer—his third bomb in three games—to open the scoring against lefty Jon Lester, and then made a diving stop with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to seal the 4--2 victory. In Game 2, Murphy hit another first-inning blast, this one a two-run job off Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta, propelling New York to a 3--0 lead and a 4--1 win. A belief in curses often takes hold this time of year. While Chicago's fan base is the most tortured, none of the other three teams still playing have won the Fall Classic since the Blue Jays did it, in 1993. The Mets' last title was in '86, the Royals' in '85. Each city has a hex or two of its own. Toronto has the creatively named Toronto Sports Curse, as well as the Taylor Swift Curse. (Her appearances preceded nosedives by teams in three MLB cities this season, and she had a Rogers Centre gig in early October.) New York has the Willie Mays Curse and the Mets Bobblehead Curse, among others (many related to Bobby Bonilla). Kansas City has something called the Curse of the Shuttlecocks, but that's not nearly all; a few years ago an alternative local newspaper called The Pitch ran a story headlined, THE ROYALS' 25 BIGGEST CURSES. One problem with viewing sports through curse-colored glasses is that it overlooks the existence of simple statistical variance. A bigger concern is that it minimizes the agency of the human beings playing the game. The Royals, for example, have constructed a resilient lineup full of contact hitters, which is how they were able to go up 2--0 in the ALCS. In the seventh inning of a 6--3 victory in Game 2, K.C. rallied for five runs against Jays ace David Price, who had given up just one knock through six. For his part, Daniel Murphy has worked exceedingly hard to become more of a threat at the plate. Under first-year hitting coach Kevin Long, the former gap hitter started pulling balls long before he met the Cubs. "We really started hunting pitches in the middle of the plate and in," Murphy says. "I started getting a little more aggressive, and we talked and found out, What are my strengths and what are my weaknesses?" Murphy had never finished with a full-season slugging percentage higher than .448, but over the last two months of the regular season he slugged .538. Through Sunday he was up to .929 in the playoffs. Identifying baseball curses is the fan's equivalent of mining ancient texts for prophesies of doom. It's an exercise in drawing a bull's-eye around where the target has been hit. Their existence is almost always ultimately disproved; all it takes is time. "I mean, it's got to end sometime, right?" says Lester, of the Cubs' seemingly insidious one. Lester would know. He was a Red Sox farmhand when that organization ended the Curse of the Billy Goat's longtime twin—the Curse of the Bambino—in 2004, and he pitched for Boston's two subsequent champions. Still, even as old curses die, new ones are born. It has not escaped notice that all four of the remaining teams wear royal blue as their primary color. Are we in the nascent stages of the Curse of Non--Royal Blue? Check back next October. By then, at least one supposedly voodooed fan base will be unburdened—due not to anything metaphysical but to players who, like Murphy, performed at their very best when it mattered most.
PHOTOPHOTOGRAPH BY DILIP VISHWANAT FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDPRICE HIKE Blue Jays ace Price was cruising in Game 2 until the seventh, when the Royals erupted for five runs in a 6--3 victory. THREE PHOTOSPHOTOGRAPH BY CHUCK SOLOMON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDGRAND STAND Mets rightfielder Curtis Granderson robbed the Cubs' Chris Coghlan of a likely home run in Game 2, much to the delight of bullpen coach Ricky Bones.