David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PHILADELPHIA - Always happens, right? The guy who makes-the-diving-grab-off-the-kick-save-and-then-completes-the-shovel-pass drives in the winning runs.
No? Well, it does for these Mets.
Or at least it did Thursday night, when Carlos Torres and Daniel Murphy teamed up in the 10th inning for one of the more mind-bending, torso-twisting plays you'll ever see on a baseball field. Then the unlikely duo combined to spark a four-run rally in the 13th inning that delivered the Mets' 9-5 win and wrapped up a four-game sweep of the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
What's more believable? Torres using a bicycle kick to deflect a ground ball to the sprawling Murphy? Or the relief pitcher, after throwing 21/3 innings, legging out a ground ball to shortstop for an infield single . . . before having Murphy drive him in with a slicing double into the leftfield corner?
It's not enough for the Mets to just win games during this remarkable season. They're always pushing the degree of difficulty, like a gymnast on the balance beam or a freestyle skier doing back flips. And after watching Torres make like Lionel Messi in directing Jeff Francoeur's sizzling grounder toward Murphy and then racing over to catch his backhand toss, they both deserve an 11 on the play.
"I don't know if there's another pitcher in baseball that gets over there after getting smoked like that," David Wright said. "He's a super-athlete."
The captain was referring to Torres, who did the only thing he could do in swiping his foot at Francoeur's hot smash. And we're not sure how lucky Torres felt when a ball hit that hard tagged him. If it hurt, Torres hid that fact well. He didn't limp in sprinting over to the base, where he reeled in Murphy's belt-high toss without breaking stride.
"I always throw my foot at balls, and I got it," Torre said. "So sign me up."
Torres does wear silver soccer cleats during batting practice, a time when players usually forgo their game spikes for more comfortable footwear. But we've never seen him put them to use.
Other teams have kicked around soccer balls in the outfield before games, but we didn't think there was a practical application for it in this sport.
To see the baseball ricochet high in the air was surprising enough, but that was only the beginning. With Murphy positioned near first base, he was able to dive to his right to smother the deflected ball. Then -- while still on the ground -- Murphy angled back toward first as he made a backhand toss from one knee, barely spotting Torres.
"It was a great play to stay with it," Murphy said of Torres. "I wasn't sure he was going to get there." As for his part, he added, "That might be just good fortune."
But the Mets, now 71-56 and still with a 6½-game lead over the Nationals, seem to be manufacturing their own luck lately. It's not luck when a team keeps rallying back from big deficits, as they did for the second time in this series en route to winning the final seven games of an 8-1 road trip. On Monday, they trailed 7-2 before hitting the final six of their eight home runs in a 16-7 victory. They trailed 5-0 Thursday night before clawing back to tie the score with three home runs. This has become a consistent trend.
"It's not just getting the wins," Wright said, "but the way we're winning."
The Mets have been entertaining, no doubt about that. Topping what Torres and Murphy did, however, is going to be difficult the rest of the way.
You'll be seeing their 10th-inning acrobatics for a while, so enjoy them. We're pretty sure they'll never be replicated. And maybe there are larger forces at work this season for the Mets.
"When the play happened," Collins said, "my first thought was, 'You know what? That's got to tell you we're going to win the game.' "
Someone had to, and the more these situations keep coming up, the more that team ends up being the Mets.
After the game, Torres seemed happy just to have survived the play. Not because the ball might have injured him but because Francoeur, at 6-4, 220 pounds, was barreling toward him when the two arrived at the base almost simultaneously.
"He could have crushed me," the 6-1, 180-pound Torres said. "I just told him, 'Thanks, man, for not crushing me.' "
Now that was lucky.