David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
BALTIMORE - Daniel Murphy was a homegrown Met before it was a thing, back when the franchise had lost its way, and he projected to be part of a shaky transition to an undefined future.
A decent bat with no obvious position, and the one he did play -- third base -- already was spoken for in Flushing. To predict Murphy would still be on the Mets right now, seven years after his debut, seemed highly unlikely in 2008.
But here he is, the Met with the most seniority before David Wright's anticipated return Monday in Philadelphia. The biggest reason for it? Murphy never took any of this for granted, never took his foot off the pedal, never allowed himself to become unnecessary.
When asked before Wednesday night's 5-4 loss to the Orioles how it felt to be that senior Met on a team leading the National League East, Murphy's answer revealed plenty about the attitude that got him to this point.
"I didn't think I'd be in the big leagues this long," Murphy said. "So yeah, it seems pretty weird."
We didn't press Murphy on what he'd be doing instead of starting at second base against the Orioles, but the Mets may not be where they are without him. In his first at-bat, Murphy hit his third homer this month, pulling an Ubaldo Jimenez fastball over the rightfield scoreboard, and followed with an RBI-single in the fifth for a 3-1 lead.
He also started a nifty double play in the first inning that helped Noah Syndergaard escape a bases-loaded jam, but Murphy's defense isn't something that's talked about much. Like a closer with a blown save, it's usually mentioned when Murphy makes a mistake -- disregarding the other times he's come up with an exceptional play.
But that's the baggage attached to learning second and first base on the fly, along with failing at the Mets' attempt to add leftfield to his resume. Technically, Murphy is a corner outfield spot shy of being a true super-utility player, like a Ben Zobrist or Brock Holt, but he's versatile enough to let Terry Collins maximize his lineup card on a daily basis.
This season, Murphy has made 47 starts at second base, 39 at third and even four at first -- bailing out Collins when Duda was in a dark place. As for the lineup, he's batted second (20), third (21), fourth (12) and fifth (38). By moving Murphy around, it's allowed Collins to shuffle his less interchangeable pieces -- Wilmer Flores, Ruben Tejada, Juan Uribe -- and still keep his .280 average in the lineup.
For a team that's fielded a subpar offense for years, Murphy has been one of the most consistent threats. At age 30, he still acts like he's grateful for the opportunity.
"I'm very appreciative," Murphy said. "They're not just passing out at-bats in this league. The organization has been good to me."
All signs point to that relationship ending once this season is over, as Murphy will be a free agent and the Mets have less costly options to take his place, presuming that Wright's back condition improves enough to have him reclaim his third-base job in 2016. Murphy is making $8 million this season, and we can't see Sandy Alderson going the multiyear route for him.
If this is the end, Murphy is making the most of it. He entered Wednesday night hitting .328 (20-for-61) with seven doubles, two homers and nine RBIs in 14 games this month. With Wright's expected Monday return, Murphy will go back to being the regular second baseman again, as Uribe and Kelly Johnson will spell Wright, who Collins said won't be the everyday starter at his old position. Collins' job is about to become more difficult.
"Yeah, but that's what happens when you get a lot of players that are pretty good," Collins said. "You've got to figure out how to get them all in the game at different times."
"It will be a little bit of a challenge."
Murphy made that easier for a while, in helping to nudge the Mets through a turbulent period. One he was never quite sure he'd get through himself.