By Ernie Palladino
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The Mets arrived at Dodger Stadium Thursday night as a loose, hopeful team of late-season achievers.
They left as heroes, conquering and avenging. And oddly enough, none of them were named Yoenis Cespedes, at least not on that night in Southern California.
He was the one who got them there, and indeed helped them to Game 5. But the ones who wiped away the hated Dodgers Thursday and landed them in their first NLCS since 2006 were named Daniel Murphy, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia.
No matter what happens against the Cubs, they get to wear the hero tag. They were the ones who issued the only real, true retaliation for Chase Utley’s villainy in breaking Ruben Tejada’s leg with a high, late slide. They were the ones who accomplished the final 3-2 win, a victory fraught with danger from the first inning on.
Heroes, you see, are the ones who get it done when the bombs are going off in enemy territory. Heroic acts need not be pretty, just effective. And in Game 5, those not named the powerful Cespedes who led the Mets did it with grit and purpose.
There was Murphy, a hand in each of the Mets’ runs, be it directly with an RBI double in the first and a homer in the sixth that produced the winning run. Or might he truly have shined when he smartly went from first to third against a shifted infield on Lucas Duda’s fourth-inning walk, to come home with the tying run on Travis d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly to right?
Think about it. If he stays at second, he never scores. Who knows how the game goes after that?
There was deGrom, not because he pitched so well, but because he struggled so much. His stuff betrayed him. Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Andre Ethier strung together four straight hits in the first for two runs and a 2-1 lead. And it never did come back all the way until a 1-2-3 sixth. Until then, deGrom saw runners reach second or third in every inning.
He pitched through it, though. A pair of strikeouts ended the second, a double play the third. A harmless flyout and a strikeout ended a third-inning threat, and a groundout and a strikeout left Turner, who tormented his ex-teammates all series, standing at second in the fifth.
DeGrom was far from pretty. He was certainly miles away from the dominant right-hander the Mets came to call their ace during the regular season. But he gutted it out until, surprise of surprises, Syndergaard came out of the bullpen to pitch a one-walk seventh.
Inserting his No. 3 starter in an unfamiliar relief situation wasn’t exactly a spur of the moment decision on Terry Collins’ part. The manager warmed him up in the second and fifth innings, as well as the seventh. Once Wilmer Flores singled with two out and pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson walked to the plate in place of deGrom, Syndergaard’s first-ever relief appearance became a forgone conclusion.
Aside from the walk to Gonzalez, the rookie didn’t flinch.
Nor did Familia, who came on in the eighth for his first ever six-out save. He almost made it look easy. He blazed ahead of hitters at 97. They never came close to dropping one in on him.
Sweetest of sweet, he retired the evil Utley for the first out of the ninth, a simple fly to right that quieted a wild, towel-waving throng that owned a far different perspective on the Tejada play.
Then, Familia finished it stylishly, striking out A.J. Ellis and Howie Kendrick.
The man who got them to the postseason? Cespedes went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
The Mets didn’t need him Thursday night. They had other heroes to get it done.
Now they face an even more powerful team in the Cubs, a squad that could conceivably take it all. Beating them will require more work like Thursday.
Somehow, though, one must think that, though flawed, the Mets don’t have a shortage in the hero department.
Game 5 proved as much.