Postseason heroics are nothing new for Daniel Murphy. It’s how he made his name in 2015 as a member of the New York Mets, as they rode his hot streak at the plate all the way to a World Series appearance.
The magic from last October hasn’t dissipated; Murphy would sign a three-year, $37.5 million contract with the division rival Nationals and prove his torrid stretch was no fluke. He turned in a career year (.347 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI) that put him squarely in the NL MVP discussion.
So even if he would be in a different uniform this time around, the Nats didn't have any reason to expect that Murphy wouldn't excel on game’s biggest stage.
“He wants to be in that position,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s where it starts. You have to want to be in that position.”
Indeed, Murphy has picked up where he left off last postseason. While Jose Lobaton had the big blow in Sunday’s 5-2 win, the 31-year-old second baseman did his part by going 3-for-3 with run with a pair of crucial RBI singles.
The three-hit effort raised Murphy's career playoff average to .359 (18-for-64) over 16 games.
“He's just a great player,” left fielder Jayson Werth said afterward. “What he did last year down the stretch, he's been able to hold on to that and keep it going. It's really cool to see. Obviously a big part of our team.”
“He's one of the best in baseball,” added right fielder Bryce Harper. “That's the MVP this year. He did it the right way and bringing it on to the postseason.”
Murphy’s had quite the 12 month-stretch, and yet he hasn’t spent much of it patting himself on the back. Instead, he’s quick to point to his teammates for his success.
“One of the first things that I’ve been fortunate to be in is a really good spot in two really good lineups,” said Murphy, who’s batted cleanup for most of this season. “...I get to reap the benefits of guys on base in front of me and guys swinging the bat well behind me.”
On Sunday, Murphy gave the Nats what they had been missing in their previous two playoff trips in 2012 and 2014. He especially excelled with runners in scoring position, spraying singles to right and center field to plate insurance runs after Washington grabbed a 3-2 fourth-inning lead.
For a lineup that sometimes gets too keen on hitting the long ball, Murphy’s approach is a welcome sight.
“I think that's what experience gives you," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Being in the big leagues now for seven years like he has, and having been in those RBI situations where you know the pitcher is not going to give in, he just does such a good job of sticking with it.”
Perhaps the only reason anyone would have thought Murphy wouldn’t perform was because of his strained left glute he suffered in mid-September. With the Nats virtually assured a playoff spot at the time, they shut their best hitter down for the rest of the regular season in hopes to get him closer to full strength for the playoffs.
So far, so good, as Murphy’s resembled exactly the type of October hero Washington needs him to be.
“[He] didn't play for three weeks, and now he's raking again,” Harper said “He's just incredible. A lot of fun to watch. We need that out of him, and [it was] huge game for him."