David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
David Wright must have talked for a half-hour, his eyes watery from the cold, his face still red. Standing at his locker, surrounded by a wall of reporters four deep, the captain repeated a message he felt could not be stressed enough.
"This was a collective team loss," Wright said after the Mets fell to the Royals, 5-3, in Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night at Citi Field. "There were dozens of things that we could have done better. Daniel Murphy didn't lose this game. We lost this game as a team."
Unfortunately, no one really believes that.See alsoWorld Series Game 4 boxscore: Mets vs. Royals
The Mets had a 3-2 lead with Jeurys Familia on the mound and were five outs away from tying the Series at two games each when Eric Hosmer slapped a high chopper toward Murphy.
To this point, the Mets had been very lucky. Though Murphy has been a wrecking ball at the plate this postseason, he never has stopped being a defensive liability. It's just that that type of situation never found him before Saturday night. And this was the worst possible time.
With Royals at first and second, any ball in play was potentially dangerous. Murphy charged in, glove extended, trying to one-hand the grounder -- but instead of the ball hopping into his glove, it scooted underneath and rolled into rightfield. Instead of two outs, runners at second and third and the lead still intact, the score was tied at 3.
Then, with all the energy drained from the largest crowd ever to fill Citi Field, Familia surrendered back-to-back RBI singles to Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez.
The collapse was complete, and there was no sugarcoating the fact that Murphy had engineered it.
Sure, Familia could have picked him up. But it just felt inevitable once that ball found Murphy.
For weeks, he had carried the Mets, hitting seven home runs in the first two rounds and homering in a record six straight games. He became a Sports Illustrated cover boy, with teammates saying they now knew what it was like to play alongside Babe Ruth.
If only Murphy's glove had stretched a few more inches, maybe the Mets wouldn't need Matt Harvey to save their season Sunday night at Citi Field. But that's where the Mets are right now, in a 3-1 hole, facing elimination.
As Wright said, Murphy shouldn't be the scapegoat. But that won't stop the indelible image of the ball squirting past him, to be replayed countless times, like the Buckner gaffe in reverse.
"Murphy's one of the best players we have," Familia said. "He's one of the reasons we're still here. It happens."
The frustrating part for the Mets is that plenty of good things happened for them Saturday night. They built a 3-1 lead on the strength of two home runs by Michael Conforto. If Murphy's ill-timed hiccup was an '86 flashback, then so was Conforto's night, as he joined Gary Carter as the only two Mets to homer twice in a World Series game. One kid matching another "Kid," who also hit two bombs in Game 4 as the Mets rallied back from an 0-2 deficit.
Conforto's feel-good story, however, might not be headed for the same happy ending. Terry Collins was rewarded for sticking with the 22-year-old rookie over a superior defensive alignment that included Juan Lagares, but Conforto's heroics could end up a footnote to a much larger disappointment.
"We just didn't get the hits when we needed them -- except for Conforto," Collins said. "They pitched good. But anybody that can give me the answers of why we're not hitting in certain situations, I'd like to hear them."
Murphy's legend has been cut down to size in this Series, as he's batting .176 (3-for-17) with zero extra-base hits, numbers identical to those posted by Yoenis Cespedes. The two have combined to create a black hole in the middle of the Mets' order, one that threatens to swallow this team's championship dreams.
We also can't overlook that Familia has failed twice, falling two outs short in Game 1, when he allowed a tying homer by Alex Gordon, and then being unable to clean up Tyler Clippard's mess in Game 4.
The Mets sprung too many leaks Saturday night. Murphy's was just the one we'll remember most if the Mets' season ends without a ring.
"There's only one way to respond," Wright said. "Our backs are against the wall and we've got to get it done."
Or the Mets are finished.