By Jason Keidel
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It never comes easy for the Mets. And Thursday night was no exception.
Jacob deGrom didn’t have the electric and eclectic stuff that baffled the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS. His fastball didn’t have the bite. The breaking ball hung perilously close to home plate. Batters weren’t walking bewildered back to the dugout. Some were even getting serious cuts.
But the young man who was born the last year the Mets were favored to reach the World Series (1988), pitched like a man 10 years his elder. When raw young men with raw talent realize they can’t just blow endless fastballs by the opponent, they usually pace around the mound and pout in the dugout, stunned by the three woeful innings they just tossed.
But after surrendering two quick runs, deGrom battled and chipped away at the Dodgers’ lineup, pitching like a corporeal cliche — one pitch, one batter, one inning at a time. When he was pulled after six innings, his team was tied with Los Angeles, 2-2, and gave the Mets, well, Daniel Murphy, a chance to win the game and propel the Mets into the NLCS for the first time in a long time.
The Mets now face perhaps the best team left standing, the Chicago Cubs, in a series easily billed, “How the #*&@ did these two teams get here?” One team has won two titles since their maiden campaign in 1962; the other hasn’t won a World Series since Roosevelt — that’s Teddy Roosevelt — was president.
And while the Mets don’t get to Game 5 without deGrom, they surely don’t win it without Daniel Murphy, who was sizzling with the bat, and unusually vital on the diamond.
Ron Darling, the best commentator in NYC and MLB analyst nonpareil, nailed the singular, seminal moment. Murphy, who’s been typecast as a one-trick pony, a glorified DH in a league that doesn’t have one, grabbed the most important 90 feet of the game.
Noticing the Dodgers’ infield shift, an innocuous fly ball turned into a sac fly, With no one covering third base following a walk to Lucas Duda, Murphy trotted 30 yards, jogging first, then darting, to keep the fielders from noticing. Then he scored on the next out. Without that prescience, the Mets don’t tie the game, don’t take the mojo from the Dodgers, and don’t quiet the crazy home crowd.
There’s an epic difference between 2-1, with Greinke dealing, and 2-2, with Greinke reeling. The Met stole the momentum, silenced the fans, and felt a seismic shift in confidence.
We can parse the particulars. But this wasn’t about an X here or an O there. This is about a team that hasn’t won in eons learning to win again. They have the youngest, most fertile starting staff in the sport, a most holy pitching trinity that carried them into the NLCS.
This is about heart. About hearth. About family. About Wilmer Flores learning he was traded, crying, then learning he was staying put, staying home. This is about Ruben Tejada breaking his leg by a savage slide, and the Mets having his back.
The old Mets would have blown this. The old Mets would have curled up like a yoga mat the moment they got down, facing one of the most lethal pitchers in the NL this year.
But these Mets have played with a cinder block on their shoulder, and ample oxygen in their heart. These Mets are the antithesis of what has driven their fans so crazy over the decades. They are young, smart, exciting, and tireless. And they are four wins from the World Series.
Even as a Yankees fan, I surfed the wave of Mets affection on Twitter, well into the wee hours, borrowing orange and blue pom poms to stoke the online fans. The Yankees and their fans have had their moments, a gratuitous string of dominance. It’s your time now, tomorrow, and maybe for a while. Kudos to you.
Few fans in America deserve a winner more than the Mets fan. You’ve toiled in obscurity, endured their frugality, and suffered in ignominy. For a fine, fierce moment, you’re being rewarded for your loyalty. And now the man we always thought would lead the Mets into a new epoch is starting Game 1. Matt Harvey gets the ball, with the eyes of Gotham upon him.
It’s time for the Dark Knight to remember his superhero status, and pitch the Mets past the hottest team and pitcher on the planet, Jake Arietta and the Cubs.
If you don’t think they can, just look at what they just did.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel