TIME Baseball

The Mets Lose and Daniel Murphy Isn’t Mr. October Anymore

A costly World Series error and an untimely cold streak threatens to overshadow his excellence

Just a week ago, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, was the hottest name in American sports. “The Amazin’ Murph,” Sports Illustrated cried out on its cover, for good reason: Murphy had hit a home run in six straight postseason games, a new major league record, to lead the Mets to their first World Series in 15 years. He completely shed his anonymity.

But Murphy and his Mets still had a World Series to play. And unfortunately for the Amazin’ Murph, the Fall Classic has been a calamity.

We see it all the time in sports: the streaky shooter, the red-hot running back who becomes an emergent national story, before regressing to the mean. In Game 4 of the World Series, Murphy’s trip back turned downright cruel. In the top of the 8th inning, with the Mets up 3-2 and five outs away from tying the World Series at two games apiece, the Kansas City Royals had runners on first and second. Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer hit a soft ground ball to second. It rolled right under Murphy’s glove, enabling Ben Zobrist to score the tying run. The next batter, Mike Moustakas, sent another grounder Murphy’s way: He couldn’t quite reach it, and the go-ahead run came home.

Against Kansas City, which has hit a single ball out of the park all series, it’s death by a thousand dribbles. Baseball’s advanced analytics say that Murphy’s a below-average defensive second baseman, with limited range. These pictures backed up the stats.

Kansas City won Game 4, 5-3, to take a 3-1 series lead. The Mets must win Game 5 at home, and take two more games on the road to complete a historic World Series comeback. The last team to pull this off this sequence: the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, who trailed the Baltimore Orioles before winning Game 5 in Pittsburgh and stealing Games 6 and 7 in Baltimore.

Murphy’s error was embarrassing enough. But his bat has also disappeared, compounding his problems. He’s hitting .176 through the first four games of the series, with just three singles and no extra base hits. “We’re running out of at-bats,” a dejected Murphy, who if he wasn’t on the verge of tears was at least in the vicinity, said after the game. “Hopefully I can figure it out quickly.”

To Murphy’s credit, he didn’t hide from reporters. He stood in front of his locker for a self-flagellation. “I tried to one-hand it,” Murphy said about is costly error. “It probably deserved to be two-handed.” Murphy suggested that he rushed the play a bit, preoccupied with getting Hosmer out at first—and securing the second out of the inning. “I put us in a really bad spot and it’s frustrating.” Murphy said. Do you typically make the play nine times out of 10, Murphy was asked. “I didn’t make it the only time it counts,” he said. “There’s no excuse for it, and we lost the ballgame because of it.”

His teammates were left to defend him. “This guy has hit 100 home runs in two weeks,” said Mets third baseman and captain David Wright. “Daniel Murphy does not deserve the blame for this loss.”

The Royals, who lost more than 90 games in eight of nine seasons between 2004-2012, are now one victory away from their first World Series title in 30 years. Emotions will be high for Game 5 Sunday night. Edinson Volquez’s father passed away on Tuesday, right before he pitched in Game 1 of the Series. (At the request of Volquez’s family, the Royals did not tell him the news until after he left the game.) Volquez will start Game 5. He returned from his father’s funeral in the Dominican Republic on Saturday, arriving just before the start of the game. “I never thought I would get so much love from a lot of people, even outside of the clubhouse and outside of baseball,” Volquez said. “And I was like, Wow, I’ve got a lot of people that really care about what happened to me. And it’s a great feeling.”

As for the Mets, their young starting pitching offers legit hope. If any staff can win three straight, it’s the young combo of Matt Harvey—the Game 5 starter—Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Murphy’s struggles show the fragility of sporting fame. An athlete who’s on top of the town can quickly want to crawl under second base. At least until tomorrow.

Murph can be amazin’ again. He’s just gotta act fast.

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