LOS ANGELES - The chill of the winter tracked the Mets down here, its long reach piercing through the warmth of Dodger Stadium. It loomed overhead, a menacing presence, threatening to end the season that brought hope back to Flushing.
So many times Thursday night, in Game 5 of their National League Division Series against the Dodgers, the darkness beckoned. A lesser team might have acquiesced, surrendered to the cold. Not these Mets -- not now, not yet.
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Together, Jacob deGrom and Daniel Murphy pushed the sun back into the sky, and now the Mets will see tomorrow. This was the reward for outlasting the Dodgers, 3-2, in an epic clincher Thursday night that stretched and strained at the limits of resolve.
"It was unbelievable," said champagne-soaked general manager Sandy Alderson, who watched one season-saving feat after the other, all with the awe of a fan.
Through his power and poise, Murphy orchestrated all three of his team's runs, including the go-ahead solo shot in the sixth inning off Dodgers co-ace Zack Greinke. And deGrom, with little more than grit and toughness, emerged as the winner after enduring six innings of torture.
From there, the Mets trusted rookie starter Noah Syndergaard to power through the middle of the Dodgers' lineup in a scoreless seventh. He set up closer Jeurys Familia, whom Terry Collins challenged to record the final six outs. He proved up to the task.
"My God," said Familia, who got the last out, then jumped up and down to trigger the celebration. "I don't have the words to to say how special it felt to be out there."
The Mets now will face the resurgent Cubs, who after five score and seven years of championship futility hope to reach the World Series for the first time since 1945. Matt Harvey will oppose Jon Lester in NLCS Game 1 Saturday night at Citi Field.
"This is probably more gratifying and sweeter having to go through the pitchers we did to get to this point," David Wright said.
In five games, the Dodgers started Clayton Kershaw and Greinke twice each, the last line of defense to prop up what turned out to be a $310-million house of cards. Mets castoff Justin Turner hit .526 in one of the best postseason series in franchise history. The Mets made it all irrelevant.
Game 5 was supposed to be a pitchers' duel, a dream matchup of the upstart deGrom and the established Greinke. It was to be a display of precision. But what unfolded at Chavez Ravine looked and felt like an alley fight.
Four times, Collins admitted, he was one batter away from pulling the rip cord on deGrom. He had made a mess of the first inning, when he allowed four straight hits as the Dodgers took a 2-1 lead. "I was trying not to think about that. I didn't want that to happen," said deGrom, who spent the next five innings walking a tightrope. "It was stressful."
The Dodgers offered forceful nudges -- a walk here, a hit there, trouble at every turn. Without his trademark fastball command, and with the other 24 players on his back, deGrom could only hope to keep his balance.
When his spot came up in the second, deGrom hit for himself. In the third, with deGrom again on the ropes, Collins visited the mound with runners at the corners and one out. "I just said get a double play," Collins said. With Syndergaard warming again, Collins put the fate of the team in deGrom's hands, and was rewarded when he induced a comebacker for an inning-ending DP.
When deGrom departed after allowing two runs in six innings, he did so with the lead. For that, he could thank Murphy.
Yes, the Mets scored three runs against Greinke, and each one felt like a precious gem.
In the first, Curtis Granderson reached on an infield single and scored on Murphy's double.
Murphy turned to improvisation in the fourth to position himself as the tying run. He started the threat with a single, then moved to second on Lucas Duda's one-out walk. But on the way, he noticed that third base was left uncovered by Turner, who had swung around in an extreme shift. Murphy bolted for third, made it easily and scored the tying run on Travis d'Arnaud's sacrifice fly.
With the score still tied in the sixth, Murphy turned the series with one majestic swing.
Soon, Familia was jumping up and down in front of the mound. In the dugout, backup catcher Kevin Plawecki squeezed a baseball for nine innings, then stormed the field with this teammates. On the way to the mound, he tripped, then recovered. "I think I caught somebody's foot or something," he said. "I went down and just tried to roll it off."
The champagne flowed. Jonathon Niese flopped on the beer-soaked clubhouse floor. And the menacing chill of the winter was replaced by the warmth of another day.