Just for an evening, it would be pretty fun to be a big-league ballplayer. I don’t mean as a walk-on — a Joe Boyd thrust onto a stage not normally yours. I mean, wouldn’t it be fun to be an invisible traveling companion — someone who could see what the player sees, hear what the player hears and most importantly do what the player does?
Who would you choose to be? I’m sure it would be fun to be scoop up balls at third base like David Wright, or throw an ungodly slider and moonwalk off the mound like Jenrry Mejia, or even jiggle the belly fat in an impressive way like Bartolo Colon. (Though hmm, after this long on book tour I can do that one myself.)
But if I were going to get my ridealong day, I think I’d be Daniel Murphy.
When he’s on — and part of what makes Murph Murph is neither you nor he can predict when he’ll be on — no one has more fun on the field, and no one manages to be less cool about his successes. Which, endearingly enough, is very cool.
To be clear, Tuesday night wasn’t the night I’d have chosen to be Zack Wheeler. Wheeler threw 118 pitches — 64 strikes and 54 balls. He faced 24 batters and 13 of them reached base. In any normal game, that would be a recipe for absorbing a beating and huddling in dismay at one end of the bench while the regulars were excused from further duty. Tonight, though, it was enough — not to get the win, despite Terry Collins’ best efforts on Wheeler’s behalf — but to wind up on the winning side. Wheeler couldn’t screw this game up badly enough to lose, not with Murph and Ruben Tejada pulling off unlikely double plays and the Mets walloping Vidal Nuno and Alfredo Aceves. Wheeler has great stuff, and has pitched in bad luck and in front of bad defense, but tonight there was no excuse to be made for him.
No, I’d be Daniel Murphy. There was Murph in the second, smothering a Kelly Johnson grounder that was ticketed for the outfield while skidding across the Yankee Stadium infield dirt on one palm, then somehow turning and shooting a throw to Tejada before topping onto his backside. That had to hurt, I thought when I saw the replay, but Murph looked down at his palm and brushed at his forearm as if it were all a great adventure.
Or there’s Murph standing tall after Tejada grabs a short hop or watches a ball spin out of his glove but into his hand or otherwise is forced to improvise. I always worry about him standing at second with a knee locked and vulnerable, but he doesn’t seem to worry — if something happens it’ll happen. It’s the Zen of Murph, I suppose.
But the most fun moment to be Daniel Murphy on Tuesday night would of course have been the fifth inning, when he clocked a pedestrian fastball from Aceves to deep right, sending it clanging off the foul pole. High off the foul pole — this was not a cheap Yankee Stadium home run but a Mo Vaughn special, a threat to unwary hot-dog vendors in the deepest environs of the yard. Murph chugged around the bases, seemingly deep in thought about the cool thing he’d just done, until it burst out of him with a yell as he faced his own dugout.
I don’t know quite how Murph does these things; it’s fairly obvious Murph doesn’t know either. When things go badly he’s as pissed and befuddled as you are; when things go well he’s ready to leap off his couch and high-five everyone, except he was the one who just did the high-fiveable thing. You’re in awe and he’s in awe and things will go wrong again soon enough, but right now, oh my goodness isn’t it fun to be Daniel Murphy, New York Met?
Programming note: This was also gonna be about Chase Field, where I was watching the D’backs beat the Nats while listening to Howie and Josh from Yankee Stadium. But I’m way too tired and have to get up way too early. It’ll wait.