Two years ago, Daniel Murphy had the dubious distinction of being the Mets’ lone representative for the All-Star Game in Minneapolis. His primary qualification? Murphy owned a blue-and-orange uniform. Somebody had to wear one that night at Target Field.
Murphy was a party-crasher that season, a low-profile, no-nonsense, bat-centric grinder who backdoored his way into the Midsummer Classic. But life is a little different now, and this week, Murphy’s worlds collided in San Diego.
Draped in Nationals colors, he worked with Kevin Long, his former Mets hitting coach, and chatted up Terry Collins. During Tuesday night’s sixth-inning “Stand Up 2 Cancer” segment, Murphy held up a sign with Sandy Alderson’s name, giving a hat tip to Mets PR guru Jay Horwitz for reminding him of the general manager’s battle with an undisclosed type of the disease.
“My family has been really blessed, we haven’t been affected by cancer as much as others,” Murphy said after the AL squad beat the NL, 4-2. “Hopefully, he’s doing well. He’s been in my thoughts and prayers.”
All these months later, Murphy remains stuck in the Mets’ minds, and he won’t be forgotten anytime soon. He missed out on starting Tuesday’s game by a mere 88 votes, but still had a pair of singles, including one off the Yankees’ Dellin Betances. Murphy also made a nifty backhanded stop up the middle and delivered a difficult throw across his body to squash the AL’s bases-loaded rally in the seventh inning.
In a double-whammy for Mets fans, watching Murphy shine was as close as they got to seeing one of their own play in the game. With Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes knocked out by injuries, Collins failed to find a spot for either Jeurys Familia or Bartolo Colon — the latter being saved for a pitching emergency.
“We had it set up when we were going to use them,” Collins said, “and we just didn’t get there.”
For a few days, everyone had to put aside the fact that Murphy has almost singlehandedly torn down the Mets, the team that dismissed him over the winter, in performing like an MVP during the season’s first half.
Murphy was batting .348 at the break, tops in the majors, with 17 home runs and 66 RBIs in 87 games. Back in 2014, for his previous All-Star trip, Murphy had a .294 average, seven homers and 37 RBIs. That year, his .755 OPS was more than 200 points lower than his current .985.
“I can tell you, without a doubt, I didn’t think that this is what it would be like at the half,” Murphy said. “If you had asked me in spring training, and somebody said this is what I would do, I would have said no way.”
His All-Star resume has been written in Mets tears. Murphy is hitting .423 (22-for-52) against them with seven homers and 21 RBIs in 13 games. That type of performance seems to go beyond casual dislike and straight to man-on-a-mission behavior, even if Murphy won’t cop to it.
“Oh, it’s always nice to play well against a division opponent,” Murphy said. After a slight pause, he added, “Always.”
We’ll take that as a yes. And for some additional insight, we sought out another All-Star, the Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson, on how being traded by the A’s may have helped fuel his motivation in winning the MVP the following season.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” Donaldson said. “I wanted them to feel like they were missing out . . . that this is what they could have had.”
Perhaps someday Murphy will admit it. And in the meantime, we’ll keep trying. If Murphy keeps this up in the second half, he’s going to make a compelling MVP case for himself.
“I don’t really look at it that way,” Murphy said. “I’ve learned enough from this league that if you’re not laser-focused, you’re going to get exposed. And I’ve gotten exposed enough times to see that. It’s more about the task at hand.”
For Murphy, after Tuesday, it’s back to beating the Mets again.