By: Paul DiSclafani
Daniel Murphy hit a home run for the fourth straight postseason game, this time off the Cubs Ace Jake Arrieta in the first inning, propelling the Mets to a 4-1 win and a 2-0 lead in the Best-of-Seven National League Championship Series. The Mets are now two wins away from their first trip to the World Series in 15 years.
Murphy has now hit five postseason home runs in 2015, tying Mike Piazza’s franchise record set in 1999, but it took Piazza 22 games to do it. Murphy has played only seven games.
And to think he has hit four of them off potential Cy Young Award Candidates – Clayton Kershaw (2), Zack Greinke and Arrieta. Are there any other candidates left this postseason?
The Mets jumped on Arrieta, who was the hottest pitcher in the league after the All-Star break, in the first inning after Curtis Granderson drew a walk leading off the first. David Wright, who had just one hit in 19 previous AB’s in the postseason, then launched a double into the right center gap with Granderson running and he scored easily to give the Amazing’s a 1-0 lead. That brought up Murphy, who homered on Game 1 off Jon Lester the day before.
After lining a long foul ball into the Pepsi Porch, Murphy lifted a high, arching fly ball down the line in right and tucked it in over the fence and just inside the foul pole to send the Citi Field faithful into a frenzy and give the Mets a quick 3-0 lead after just 13 pitches from Arietta.
Noah Syndergaard (W, 1-0), who sandwiched two strikeouts around a Kris Bryant single in the first inning, was the beneficiary of the early run support and he held the Cubs bats in check for five innings, allowing just one base runner (a walk) until the sixth. Syndergaard was bailed out in the second inning by a leaping catch from Granderson off the bat of Cris Coghlan, as he robbed him of a home run.
In between, the Mets added to their lead when the Cubs showed just how afraid of Murphy they have become. After Granderson walked again, this time leading off the third, he stole second on Wright’s strikeout. With first base open and one out, the Cubs chose to intentionally walk Murphy to pitch to Yoenis Cespedes. That decision either says a lot about the Cubs respect for the hot Murphy, or even more about no longer fearing Cespedes in this spot.
Granderson alertly stole third on a 2-0 count to Cespedes, then raced home when shortstop Javier Baez couldn’t come up with the ground ball to give the Mets a 4-0 lead.
After throwing an inning against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLDS just three days ago, manager Terry Collins was not sure of Syndergaard’s ability to bounce back for Game 2 after warming up four different times during that game. With his pitch count approaching 90, he got the first out of the sixth inning before Dexter Fowler singled to right for only the Cubs second hit. Syndergaard had retired 14 of 15 to that point and with rookie banger Kyle Schwarber up, bounced a wild-pitch past Travis d’Arnaud allowing Fowler to become the first Cubbie in scoring position on the night. But after striking out Schwarber for the second out, Bryant pulled one down the line for a run scoring double, his second hit of the night, cutting the Mets lead to 4-1.
That finished Syndergaards’ night (5.2 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 9K) and brought in lefty starter Jonathan Niese, who struck out Anthony Rizzo to end the inning.
Even though Arietta lasted just five innings (4H, 4R, 2W, 8K), the Mets did nothing against him and the Cubs bullpen after Cespedes’ infield single in the third inning, getting 16 straight batters before Wright singled in the eighth with two outs.
Collins, who seemed reluctant to use deadline-deal relievers Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed against the Dodgers, got a 1-2-3 inning from Reed in the seventh and a 1-hit inning from Clippard in the eighth, bridging the gap to closer Jeurys Familia in the ninth. Rizzo reached on an infield single when Familia did not cover first base on a grounder with one out, but he did get there for the final 3-1 put out, getting his second save of the NLCS and fourth save of the postseason. Familia has faced 26 batters in the postseason and allowed just three base runners.
The Cubs, after facing Matt Harvey in Game 1 (7.2 innings, 4H, 2R, 9K) and Syndergaard in Game 2, watch the Mets trot out Jacob deGrom (2-0) for Game 3 with a chance to take a stranglehold on this series when it moves to Chicago on Tuesday night. With Lester and Arrieta not available until Games 5 and 6, the Cubs are forced to go with Kyle Hendricks (8-7), who was touched for three runs in 4.2 innings in the NLDS vs St. Louis, but struck out seven.
Talk about pressure, Hendricks and Jason Hammel (10-7) have to help the Cubs take at least one game from the Mets to get this series back to New York for a Game 6 to break the streak of 70 years without a World Series appearance.
For all his success in the majors, deGrom (14-8) has not had much success against the Cubs and is 0-2 in three career starts.
POSITIVES: The Cubs never got the tying run to the plate … The Cubs had not lost consecutive games since September 23-26, when they lost three in a row … Arrietta had not lost since July 25th – the day the Mets promoted Michael Conforto and acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson … Cespedes celebrated with 30th birthday with his first hit in the NLCS … Top four players in the order had all five hits, Murphy had two of them …
NEGATIVES: It was 45 degrees at game time with an 18 mph wind … Conforto and Wilmer Flores were 0-3 with 2K … Mets struck out 12 time