In 55 summers of Mets baseball, every open wound has been greeted with a heaping handful of salt. Every dig of the knife comes with a twist. Such is the way of the world, at least in Flushing. So in that sense, the Daniel Murphy revenge tour seemed all too inevitable.
“We’ve seen it,” manager Terry Collins said Saturday night after Murphy led the Nationals to a 6-1 victory. “As you know, he’s pumped up to play against us, show us that we made a mistake. It’s human nature and it’s part of the game. You’ve just got to make better pitches.”
The boos that spilled from the stands at Citi Field did little to dampen Murphy’s fun. He went 3-for-4 with a walk and four RBIs, including a two-run homer in the seventh that put the game out of reach.
Through it all, he appeared to find the jeers amusing.
“He was just laughing, being Murph, having a good time, having fun playing this game,” Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud said.
It was the Mets who deemed Murphy unworthy of a long-term contract, worried that his already shaky defense at second base would rapidly depreciate. It was the Mets who never seriously entertained a reunion, perhaps unconvinced that his second-half surge and postseason heroics were sustainable.
And it was the Mets who found themselves on the receiving end of more payback.
“Anything I’ve done is exciting just because that’s a really good club,” Murphy said, again downplaying his knack for torturing his former employers. “Any time you come in here and put yourself in position to win, you’re excited about it.”
In 12 games against the Mets, Murphy is batting .438 with six homers and 19 RBIs. He is hitting .349, tops in the majors. And when he arrives at the All-Star Game on Tuesday, he will do so as a candidate to win the MVP.
At 31, he has transformed himself into one of the best hitters in baseball.
Meanwhile, as they enter their final game before the All-Star break, the Mets (47-40) find themselves in danger of wasting all of their recent work.
They had slipped six games behind the Nationals (53-36) before sweeping the Cubs and taking two of three against the Marlins. But after closing the gap, the Mets have fallen five games back. If they can’t salvage a split in today’s series finale, the Mets again will find themselves six games behind the Nationals.
Of course, the Mets arrived in a depleted state. Yoenis Cespedes did not play after suffering a strained right quadriceps. And instead of sending out Matt Harvey to oppose Max Scherzer — as had been planned before Harvey’s season-ending surgery — the Mets gave the ball to Logan Verrett.
His effort was respectable but unremarkable. He allowed five runs in 6 2⁄3 innings. Of the four men he walked unintentionally, all four came around to score.
“I can’t let that happen,” said Verrett (1-4 with a 5.64 ERA in six spot starts). “No excuses.”
Verrett pitched into the seventh inning. He issued a two-out walk to Werth, then watched from the dugout as Murphy twisted the knife again with a two-run shot off reliever Antonio Bastardo.
With one swing, Murphy effectively put the game out of reach and unleashed yet another wave of the boos that trailed him all night.
Said Verrett: “Vintage Murph, from what we’ve seen this season.”
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