Even the most pessimistic Mets fan can smell mama’s apple pie resonating from the kitchen window, the apple pie being a metaphor for a World Series appearance that has eluded the Mets since 2000. The cherry on top would be the franchise’s first World Series title since 1986.
The pitching has been phenomenal, the bats so clutch and the spirit of a once-disgruntled fan base so energized and supportive that the team can almost taste the finish line.
Up 3-0 on the Cubs in the NLCS, they’ll be no repeat of 2006, when Adam Wainwright froze the World Series hopes of Mets fan with a rippling curve that paralyzed the NY legacy of Carlos Beltran and the city’s dreams of repeating as champs 20 years after finding the promise land in 1986 under manager Davey Johnson.
The Mets are in that playoff “zone.” The kind of zone that takes a contact hitter in Daniel Murphy and for 50 magical Fall Classic at bats, turns him into Reggie Jackson.
The kind of zone that makes every young arm in your coveted farm system blossom simultaneously to produce moment after moment of rubber-toting, bad intentions. One cat just as dominant as the next, as not to be responsible for ending the wave of euphoric invisibility that has possessed his team.
When players and squads go on runs like this, the energy of dominance spreads like a disease, bringing old Mets fans back to the ballpark and converting those front-running Yankees fans to Queens shills for a month. The anguish that this Mets come up has caused smug and entitled Yankees fans is enough to carry the borough through another five years of pitiful baseball if this year is simply lightening in a bottle and not the beginning of a new, perennially-winning era of Mets diamond-mining.
Murphy continued his assault on pitchers in the third inning of a Game 3, homering to center field off Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, which means he's now homered in five straight postseason games. Murphy’s power surge has been so formidable and convincing that the announcers barely broke from their traditional, dry baseball banter when announcing the shot that gave the Mets a 2-1 lead in a pivotal, must-win NLCS game for Chicago.
That five-game playoff homer streak ties him with (former Met) Carlos Beltran of the 2004 Astros for the all-time postseason mark. Murphy, who entered NLCS Game 3 batting .357/.379/.929 this postseason, now has six homers in the 2015 playoffs -- three of which came in the NLDS win over the Dodgers. Beltran in 2004 had a total of eight homers in 12 postseason games.
The playoffs has often been a stage where the megastars of the game take a back seat to less-heralded players who become MLB titans and golden-warriors in the historical annals of baseball.
Don Larsen, the only pitcher to produce a perfect game in postseason history, was 3-21 for the Baltimore Orioles in 1954 before being sent to the Yankees as an unimportant piece in a 17-player swap that winter.
Larsen had a career-high 11 wins in '56 and he retired with a losing record of 81-91 over 14 seasons, playing for seven teams. The classic journeyman turned into stud ace and pitched the only perfect game in World Series history in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Mets fans have seen this kind of out-of-body balling by players during past playoff runs.
When the "Miracle Mets" stunned Baseball Nation in 1969, their World Series MVP, Donn Clendenon, was acquired midseason from Montreal and didn’t even take a cut in the NL Championship Series against Hank Aaron’s Braves.
When the Mets inserted him into the lineup against Orioles lefties Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar, Clendenon, a .252 hitter with 37 RBIs in 72 regular-season games for the Mets, went H.A.M. and homered three times in four World Series games, leading the Mets to their first World Series win.
Clendenon’s even less-heralded partner in crime was Al Weis, a .215 hitter with a stick lighter than Wiz Khalifa on crack. Weis smacked just two homers in 103 games, but went yard as well in the Game 5-clincher at Shea, and was 5-for-11 (.455) with four walks in the series.
This is Murphy’s Clendenon moment of sorts. Sure, Daniel is a better hitter than the aforementioned playoff heroes, but he hit 14 homers all season. And Murphy didn’t cakewalk to this epic moment in his career.
The Mets drafted him in the 13th round (394th overall) of the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft. The first two months of Murphy's professional career were spent rehabilitating a knee injury he suffered late in his college career at Jacksonville University, the only college that offered the baller a four-year scholarship out of Englewood High School in Jacksonville.
As a junior in 2006, Murphy posted a .398 batting average en route to being named the A-Sun Baseball Player of the Year, but his defense was seen as a liability so he bounced around from position to position throughout his minor league and major league career. Despite obvious defensive limitations, Murphy’s actually developed into a jack of all trades and a valuable defensive asset to any team. Whether the Mets are horrible or head of the class, the one constant is that Murphy hits.
Monster mashing is not Murphy’s game, but right now he’s ballin in Big Papi-face. I’m assuming the Mets close out the Cubs soon, so Murphy can move on to the next ballpark and add “WS hero” to his free agent resume. Mets fans don’t want Murphy’s bat cooling off because he and Curtis Granderson are carrying the team offensively, although in Jacob deGrom’s 5-2 stifling of Chicago on Tuesday, Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright each had three hits for the Mets in Game 3.
Rookie Steven Matz gets the start for the Mets in Game 4, with a chance to put himself in those history books as well, while veteran Jason Hammel goes for the Cubs.
Facing the Kansas City Royals (my preseason pick to win it all), who are up 3-1 on Toronto and smelling blood, will be a throwback battle of the 80s. It was ‘85 when the Royals last tasted WS champagne. The funny thing is, this team doesn’t play that much differently than that team played. They offer a lil’ bit of this and a lil’ bit of that. Some timely power. Speed. Crazy D. Clutch execution. An unassuming manager and just enough pitching to make it all click.
Of course, the Mets finally cracked Whitey Herzog and St. Louis and won the next season with a star-studded cast of All-Stars, power pitchers and fiery, bravado. This Mets squad has the elite power arms reminiscent of the 86 Mets staff, but they lack the superstars that flooded that balanced lineup. Instead, they will rely on the emergence of an unsuspecting star.
Could it be Lucas Duda who is hitting Mugsy Bogues’ high school playing weight (.125) ? Or maybe veteran Michael Cuddyer can come out of his batting coma (.143) and offer this team more than just some sagacious, veteran advice. Second-year backstop Travis d’Arnaud already has two playoff homers and is probably going to be at Citi Field for a while. He’ll be handling some wicked arms during his tenure. This WS could be a grand introduction to a dope career.
Can he catch the spirit of St. Louis and pull a Dave Eckstein in ‘06 or David Freese in ‘11, when these two role players emerged as unlikely World Series Most Valuable Players for the Cardinals?
Long before those guys went from from regular season obscurity to playoff omnipotence, diminutive St. Louis baller Pepper Martin hit .500 and dominated the basepaths to lead the underdog Cardinals over the heavily-favored Oakland A’s and Hall of Fame sluggers Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons in 1931.
That’s how it goes down in the MLB playoffs. Those anti-baseball fans who never watch a regular season game and scream, “It’s soooo boring,” always seem to know the names and legendary tales of underdogs turned kings for eternity like Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent, whose name is akin to a curse word in the New England area.
After knocking the Red Sox out of the playoffs by homering in an Oct. 2 tiebreaker victory at Fenway Park, the paper-hitting Dent, snatched the 1978 World Series MVP as the Bronx Bombers repeated as champions against the Dodgers. After hitting .243 with 40 RBIs in 123 regular-season games, Dent mashed .417 with seven RBI and 10 hits in six World Series games.
The last thing Mets fans want to hear about right now is anything Yankees related or the thought of the 30-year-old Murphy leaving for free agency at the end of this historic Mets run (after the laughter, then comes the tears).
They could, however, pull a page from the Yankees history books and ride Murphy’s momentum into November. It’s now or never. Murphy always fancied himself a third-hole hitter. He’s got the confidence to convince himself that he can touch-em-all every time he steps in the box. He also smells the mean green racking up and his free agent value soaring with every big postseason rip. It’s a perfect combination. Mets fans need a hero and they found one possessed and zoned out for success.