We could just leave the whole Mets thing alone as far as Justin Turner is concerned. It was a long time ago. Sandy Alderson, then-GM and now the pending club president, cut him loose after the 2013 season and Turner has been with the Dodgers ever since.
And yet, seeing Turner’s bushy red beard getting its annual October close-up as he puts his stamp on another postseason makes the Flushing chapter impossible to simply let fade. He’s like pumpkin spice -- inescapable this time of year.
Turner continues to haunt his former franchise, and he did again Friday night with his 11th postseason homer -- tying him with Duke Snider for the Dodgers’ record -- which is more than his total (eight) during four seasons with the Mets. On top of that, he’s now played in 69 playoff games, and Turner’s 75 hits have surpassed Steve Garvey for the club record in that category.
Snider, Garvey. Not bad company for a kid who grew up a Dodgers fan in nearby Long Beach, but through some bizarre twist of fate (actually a waiver claim from the Orioles) wound up calling Citi Field home in what all these years later feels like a cosmic joke at the Mets’ expense. Now Turner is only two wins away from a very elusive World Series ring after the Dodgers’ 6-2 victory over the Rays in Friday night’s Game 3 at Globe Life Field.
That also happened to be Turner’s 17th World Series game, as the Dodgers are trying to rebound from the crushing disappointment of back-to-back Fall Classic failures, one to a confirmed cheater (the ’17 Astros) and the other to an alleged rule-bender (the ’18 Red Sox). When Turner was asked Friday about possibly starting to dream a bit now that he’s halfway to a championship, he shut that down fast.
"Absolutely not," Turner said. "We know how difficult this is. We know there's still a lot of work to do in front of us. We were down 3-1 in the last series and fought our way back, so you don't take anything for granted. You assess how tonight went, come back tomorrow and make whatever adjustments you need to make. Go back to grinding away."
Turner is the epitome of a grinder, a relentless attitude no doubt fortified in part by getting released by the Mets, and he’s been an MVP-caliber fixture with the Dodgers ever since coming home to SoCal. Now that he’s turning 36 next month, with free agency on the horizon, this title chase is all that more critical for Turner, who fired up the Dodgers’ effort to bounce Charlie Morton -- a playoff stopper -- with his first-inning homer and a third-inning double that keyed a two-run rally with two outs.
"He's the heart and and soul of this team," Austin Barnes said. "He's been the heart and soul. Scratching those runs across early was huge, so JT was a big player for us. He’s a great guy in the clubhouse and we rely on him all the time."
Turner hammered a 95-mph fastball for a two-out homer in the first that put him in a tie with Snider, albeit with a notable caveat. While Turner reached his 11 home runs in 298 plate appearances, Snider -- who of course was limited to only World Series games -- required half as many (149).
"It means I've had the opportunity to play on a lot of really good baseball teams that went deep in October and I've got a lot of at-bats," Turner said. "It's something that's pretty cool that I can talk about when I'm done playing. But it doesn’t mean a whole lot until we finish this thing off and we win two more games so."
The Dodgers look poised to do so after Walker Buehler’s 10-strikeout dazzler over six innings, along with Austin Barnes’ rare combo feat of providing both a run-scoring sacrifice bunt and a homer for only the third time in World Series history (and first since the Yankees’ Hector Lopez in 1961). But it was Turner who jump-started the offense, and he followed the home run with a two-out double in the third, ripping one of Morton’s signature 80-mph curve balls. That set up Max Muncy’s two-run single to give the Dodgers a 3-0 lead. Five of L.A.’s six runs came with two outs, and their 50 runs in those situations is more than any team has scored in the postseason.
"I think we've put together tough at-bats and battled," Turner said. "It’s just a credit to the guys, digging in and fighting and battling and not trying to do too much. Trying to move the ball forward, put something in play and then good things happen."
Shortly after Turner chipped in with his bat, he went to work with a pair of defensive gems in the bottom of the third, both on tricky ground balls. Turner started an inning-ending double play by snaring Mike Zunino’s topspin-heavy bouncer, flashing his glove to grab the wicked hop and bail out Buehler from one of the Rays’ only threats.
Going forward, Turner believes something clicked for him at the plate Friday night, making the Dodgers all the more dangerous for the rest of this series. One that they hope doesn’t need to stretch beyond this weekend.
"I’ve made adjustments throughout this entire postseason," Turner said, "and finally tonight I feel like I landed on something that should be sustainable. I’ll sleep a little better and hopefully show up tomorrow and keep working on it."
And we can’t help but keep thinking of Turner as the Met that somehow, inexplicably, got away.