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Daniel Murphy, Avatar of Chaos

Five weeks ago, if the Mets had been down 5-0 I would’ve found something better to do with my time.

But that was five weeks ago, and that team that no longer exists. Tonight, when the Mets fell five runs behind, I figured they’d come back and was curious how they’d do it.

It’s remarkable — it’s as if the lineup that wore Mets uniforms until late July was not just from another season but from another decade, and their stats had been grafted on to this season’s through some bizarre act of nouveau recordkeeping.

It was a funny night as a chronicler, too. We’re finishing up our annual week on Long Beach Island, and schedules aligned to give us a chance to catch up with old friends. We took it and so I spent the early innings admiring the beauty of a spectacular sunset, content to let whatever the Mets were up to wait a bit. When I checked briefly it was 0-0 in the third, so I figured the Mets could wait a little more.

I love the way baseball rewards both careful watching of each and every pitch and a casual eye or ear on the game while you attend to whatever life’s brought you. So after parting ways with our friends I found myself riding through the Beach Haven night on a bicycle while Howie Rose and Josh Lewin spoke from my pocket. Those voices in the darkness informed me that things had not gone well in my absence; Good New Niese had yielded to Bad Old Niese for an inning that left the score Phillies 5, Mets 0.

That wasn’t good, but it was early yet. And, indeed, by the time I put my bike in a rack outside the restaurant it was 5-2. By the time the food came it was 5-5. I smiled but wasn’t surprised — we’ve come to expect such nightly miracles from Mets 2.0.

5-5, of course, was just the beginning. The Mets had ridden home runs from Travis d’Arnaud [1], Yoenis Cespedes [2] and Kelly Johnson [3] to a tie, and the game was in the hands of the bullpens.

Which seemed scary, but as Greg noted yesterday, the usually suspect have turned trustworthy [4]. Recent hero Logan Verrett [5] was first out of the gate with a spotless inning, Hansel Robles [6] stared down quick-pitch debaters [7] Jeff Francoeur [8] and Darin Ruf, [9] Sean Gilmartin [10] made the Phils look downright foolish with slow curves and sliders, and then Carlos Torres [11] came on.

Torres has lacked whatever magic he seemed to have in previous campaigns — which is just another way of saying he’s a middle reliever — but he immediately pulled a rabbit out of his hat. Francoeur shot a ball up the middle, which hit off Torres’s back foot. The ball took a crazy bounce into no-man’s land between first and second, where Daniel Murphy [12] smothered it, lost the handle and flung it blindly in the direction of first — the same location where Torres just happened to be arriving. If you didn’t see it, don’t fret — it’s here [13], and you’ll be seeing it on highlight shows for the next decade or so anyway.

Torres survived the 11th and the 12th, helped by David Wright [14] scooping up a short hop with two outs and Cesar Hernandez [15] steaming homeward from third. Oddly yet also somehow inevitably, Torres then teamed up with Murphy again for the rally that would win the game.

The Phillies had been doing their damnedest to lose, sending out palooka reliever after palooka reliever to walk some Mets and give up bullets to others. But that’s no guarantee of a loss — the bullets went right to Phillie fielders and the walked became the stranded.

Until the 13th, when Torres led off and hit a shot of his own up the middle, one which Freddy Galvis [16] was able to field and juggle but not throw. Curtis Granderson [17]‘s single sent Torres to second, and after a Cespedes flyout, Murph laced a double up the left-field line, chasing home both runs. By the time the Phils were done falling apart, the Mets had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish [18].

Murph, of course, is the Mets’ own avatar of chaos — a Loki figure who somehow bends the laws of baseball physics by his mere presence.

Sometimes this is a bad thing — Murph can run the bases as if he thinks he’s invisible (to quote Wright from a couple of years back) or double down on a defensive lapse to create a disaster that simple inaction would have avoided.

Sometimes these Murphian emanations are merely odd — the camera finds Murph wearing an oversized expression of elation or depression, or catches him yapping frenetically to no one in particular, or spots him contorting his body to express triumph or self-loathing.

And sometimes, well, it’s great. Such as when Murph hurls a ball in what he believes is the direction of first base and this time he’s not only right but a teammate has also sprinted there in the nick of time. Or when he lashes out at a baseball and sends it shooting up the line or arcing into the seats.

Murph is our Ron Swoboda [19] — a player whose emotional commitment to the game is infinite even if his talents for it are not. As fans, we live and die with the Mets’ victories and defeats. But watch Murph play ball for even a little while and you realize that as deeply as you may feel such things, you’ll never be lifted up or crushed by them the way Murphy is.

When Murph’s reality-bending force field makes him the hero, no Met fan in existence is as thrilled by what’s happened as Murph himself is. When those same redrafted laws of physics turn him into the goat, no Mets rooter is more horrified and disappointed. It’s hilarious and endearing and a little worrisome all at the same time, much like Murph himself.

And now Murph has the perfect season for his unique talents — one studded with epic wins and losses, runs of invulnerability and incompetence, and no certainty except that what happens next will be wilder and stranger than anything we’ve let ourselves imagine so far.