‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
How can a player go 1-for-6, strike out twice, make a throwing error and still come away the hero? Well, if your name is Justin Turner this is far from an uncommon occurrence. The Mets’ infielder simply has a knack of delivering when it matters either through talent, luck or intangibles.
There’s a reason why Turner has bounced around the minors and multiple organizations before he got his first legitimate taste of the big leagues this season. It’s because he isn’t a ‘tools guy.’ Ruben Tejada immediately strikes you as a tremendously athletic fielder whereas there isn’t an aspect of the game that Turner masters. What does stick out is his team-first mentality.
Certain guys can be described as ‘good vibe players’ and Turner fits that mold to a tee. His enthusiastic approach makes up for the deficiencies in his overall game. He’ll do anything it takes to win the ballgame and be at the front of the line to do whatever his manager asks of him.
Turner was the key man in the Mets’ 13th inning triumph that ended in the small hours of the morning Thursday. He took one for the team by leaning into a Brad Ziegler pitch to earn the walk-off victory. Turner proved again why he’s the prototypical ‘Terry Collins-type ballplayer’ as he’d run through a wall if his manager asked him.
You can see by his quotes that he’s exactly the sort of passionate, unselfish player that Collins demands. “That didn’t necessarily play in my mind, but I kind of take pride in that stuff, getting hit. I’ll stand in there and take the bruise to get that game over with,” Turner told reporters post-game.
The walk-off hit by pitch overshadowed a great piece of clutch hitting by Turner in the bottom of the 8th that put Francisco Rodriguez in line to close out the game. K-Rod ended blowing the save opportunity, canceling out what would have been an earlier game-winner. After an electrifying Jose Reyes triple, Turner squeezed a single past A’s third baseman Scott Sizemore to bring in the go-ahead run. He then made a smart play on the base paths to take third base after wild throw by Kurt Suzuki rolled into the outfield. Neither Carlos Beltran nor Jason Bay could bring him around but this was just another example of Turner’s baseball intellect.
Turner has become a dependable asset with runners in scoring position. Through 45 at-bats with RISP, he’s hitting .400. When the pressure’s on in two-out situations with runners in scoring position, he rises to the occasion batting .368. He has an uncanny ability to take what the pitcher gives him by shortening his swing and delivering to all fields as his manager explained post-game.
“I think when he has runners in scoring position, especially at third base the only thing he tries to do is shorten his swing and wants to make contact. That’s why he hits the ball to rightfield, up the middle… that ball tonight that he drove in Jose with early (was) a ball inside. All he tries to do is put a swing on it. That’s why he’s driven in so many runs. He’s done a tremendous job with guys on base,” Collins explained.
June hasn’t been a kind to Turner as he’s batting .200 this month, yet he still finds ways to drive in RBIs, especially when it counts. Currently, he’s on pace for 69 RBI in 102 games which isn’t a bad total. At that rate over a full 162 game season, Turner would collect a whopping total of 110 RBIs which most cleanup hitters would be envious of.
Turner has been the Mets’ good luck charm but it’s no accident. He simply knows how to produce when the game is on the line and that’s something that you can’t teach. Throughout his minor league career he was overlooked in favor of ‘more skilled’ players who got their shot before him but now he’s proving why winning isn’t always about which players has the best tools.
What do you make of Turner’s improbable impact on the Mets’ season? Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.