In a game and a series marked with hard-throwing pitchers, flashy hitters and big salaries, it was Daniel Murphy who starred in Thursday's decisive contest.
Murphy went 3-for-4 with the game-winning home run as the Mets edged the Dodgers 3-2 in Thursday's Game 5 of the National League Division Series, earning them a date with the Cubs in the NLCS that starts Saturday. Murphy finished with two RBI, two runs scored and an important stolen base in the win.
He was Dodgers starter Zack Greinke's kryptonite from the outset. After Curtis Granderson beat out an infield single to start the game, Murphy delivered a one-out RBI double to get the Mets on the board. In the fourth inning, he singled before advancing to second on a walk and made a heads-up play to steal third with nobody covering. He would come in to score on a Travis d'Arnaud sacrifice fly.
And in a 2-2 game in the sixth inning, Murphy took Greinke deep for a solo shot -- his third home run of the NLDS -- that would eventually be the difference in the game. He finished with three of the Mets' seven hits in the game.
His heroics backed up a rugged performance from Mets starter Jacob deGrom. DeGrom struggled with effectiveness from the first pitch, including allowing four straight singles in a two-run first inning, but he battled through six innings without allowing any more runs. Noah Syndergaard, making his first MLB relief appearance, and Jeurys Familia followed deGrom to finish off the win.
But the real story was Murphy. With this being Murphy's final year of arbitration and a number of talented young infielders in the system, the writing has been on the wall for a while that this may be the 30-year-old's final season with the Mets. For his part, Murphy had a good showing in his walk year, batting .281/.322/.449 with 14 home runs, 73 RBI and 56 runs scored in 130 games.
And now, he'll have an opportunity to continue showing well in the next round.
Jays, Royals Set Their Rotations
Ahead of the start of the American League Championship Series on Friday, both clubs announced their rotations for the series.
The biggest surprise is the on Blue Jays' end, where Marco Estrada -- not David Price -- will start Game 1 against the Royals. Estrada had a fine season and pitched well in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Rangers, allowing a lone run over 6 1/3 innings, but the Jays ponied up to acquire Price at the trade deadline for just this situation. Price will start Game 2 in Kansas City, with Marcus Stroman and R.A. Dickey starting Games 3 and 4, respectively.
It marks the second time Jays manager John Gibbons has passed over Price in seemingly optimal situations this postseason. Instead of saving Price for a deciding Game 5 against the Rangers in the ALDS, Gibbons used Price in a long relief role with a comfortable lead in Game 4. Gibbons turned to Stroman for the Game 5 start instead.
Estrada will be opposed by Edinson Volquez for the Royals. Also needing five games to finish off the Astros, the Royals used their big-ticket trade deadline acquisition, Johnny Cueto, on Wednesday, leaving him unavailable to start a game in Kansas City. Yordano Ventura will follow Volquez in Game 2.
That leaves Cueto for Game 3. The right-hander, who struggled down the stretch and allowed four runs over six innings in an ALDS Game 2 no-decision, was stellar in Wednesday's Game 5 win. Cueto struck out eight while allowing just two hits -- one being a Luis Valbuena two-run homer -- over eight innings. Cueto gave way to Wade Davis in the ninth after throwing just 91 pitches in the masterpiece.
Cubs Talk Rotation, Russell
The Cubs, who clinched their berth to the NLCS on Tuesday, made a few decisions of their own on Thursday.
The most notable announcement was the expected absence of Addison Russell. Russell hurt his hamstring while legging out a triple in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Cardinals, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he's just not at the point where he can play in the upcoming series.
"We'll continue to work on him," Maddon said. "Hopefully if everything plays properly, we have another opportunity for him to play in another round.
“He knows what’s happening next. He’s not going to necessarily push it right now. Let’s go on more of a normal pace with the training staff and not test it to the point where he could reinjure it again too soon by trying to be too aggressive."
The loss is an opportunity for Javier Baez, who will take Russell's spot as the starting shortstop in the rookie's absence. Baez hit a huge three-run home run in the Cubs' Game 4 win.
The club also set its starters for the first two games of the next round, tabbing Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta to start in that order. Lester also started Game 1 of the NLDS, but that was after Arrieta was called on to start the Wild Card Game against the Pirates. Lester pitched well in the start, holding the Cardinals to three runs over 7 1/3 innings in a loss.
Arrieta was unquestionably the team's best starter -- and one of the best starters in baseball -- this year, but Maddon said he wanted to give the 29-year-old another day of rest instead of throwing him in Game 1.
"It's nice giving Jake an extra day," Maddon said of the right-hander. "I'm really comfortable with them being starters in two games [in the series]."
Quick Hits: With both deGrom and Syndergaard pitching Thursday, the Mets tabbed Matt Harvey as their NLCS Game 1 starter on Saturday. Harvey will be opposed by Jon Lester when the two clubs meet in New York ... Yadier Molina underwent surgery for a torn ligament in his left thumb on Thursday. The surgery will require roughly three months of recovery time and may leave him a little behind for the start of spring training ... Yasmani Grandal, who has been dealing with a nagging left shoulder injury, admitted after the game that he'll likely need surgery on the non-throwing shoulder next week ... Justin Turner was back in the lineup after leaving Game 4 due to swelling in his left knee, and he came back with a vengeance. Turner went 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI single, tying an MLB postseason record with six doubles in the series ... An MRI on Brian Dozier's hip showed no structural damage. The hip bothered Dozier in the season's second half, a half in which he owned a .639 OPS ... In a fairly obvious but necessary statement, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak confirmed Thursday that he will make a hard push at re-signing Jason Heyward. The 26-year-old batted .293/.359/.439 with 13 homers, 79 runs scored, 60 RBI and 23 stolen bases this year and is set to get paid handsomely on the open market in a few months ... The Dodgers released Jim Johnson. Johnson owned a 4.46 ERA and 1.46 WHIP between the Dodgers and Braves and will look for a good situation this winter.