In 55 summers of Mets baseball, every open wound has been greeted with a heaping handful of salt. Every dig of the knife comes with a twist. Such is the way of the world, at least in Flushing. So in that sense, the Daniel Murphy revenge tour seemed all too inevitable.
The boos that spilled from the stands at Citi Field on Saturday night did little to dampen Murphy’s fun as the Nationals handed the Mets a stinging 6-1 defeat.
“Anything I’ve done is exciting because that’s a really good club,” Murphy said. “So anytime you come in here and put yourself in a position to win a series, you’re excited about it.”
It was the Mets that deemed him unworthy of a long-term contract, worried that his already shaky defense at second base would rapidly depreciate. It was the Mets that never seriously entertained a reunion, perhaps unconvinced that his second-half surge and postseason heroics were sustainable.
And it was the Mets who found themselves on the receiving end of more payback. Murphy went 3-for-4 with a walk and four RBIs, including a two-run home run in the seventh that put the game out of reach.
In 12 games against the Mets, Murphy is batting .438, with six homers and 19 RBIs. He is hitting .349, tops in the majors. And when he arrives at the All-Star Game on Tuesday, he will do so as a candidate to win the MVP award.
At 31, he has transformed himself into one of the best hitters in baseball.
Meanwhile, as they enter their final game before the All-Star break, the Mets (47-40) find themselves in danger of letting all of their recent work go to waste. They had slipped six games behind the Nationals (53-36) before sweeping the Cubs and taking two of three against the Marlins.
But after closing the gap, the Mets have fallen behind by five games. And if they can’t salvage a split in Sunday’s series finale, the Mets will find themselves back to square one, six games back of Murphy and the front-runners.
Of course, they arrived in a depleted state. Slugger Yoenis Cespedes did not play after suffering a strained right quad the night before, leaving the Mets lineup compromised.
And instead of sending out Matt Harvey to oppose Max Scherzer - as had been planned before Harvey’s season-ending surgery - the Mets gave the ball to spot starter Logan Verrett.
His effort was respectable, though unremarkable. He allowed five runs in 62/3 innings against the Nationals. By contrast, Scherzer struck out nine in seven innings. He was tagged for just one unearned run.
Things looked bright for the Mets, at least briefly. They took a 1-0 lead in the first inning off Scherzer, though they’d later regret not doing more with that chance.
Jose Reyes drew a leadoff walk and Curtis Granderson laced a single to left. As an added bonus, leftfielder Jayson Werth made a careless throw back to the infield, so when it sailed toward nobody in particular and trickled toward the Mets dugout, Reyes and Granderson jogged to second and third. With nobody out, the error had opened the door.
But it turned out to be a false alarm.
Neil Walker, hitting in Cespedes’ No. 3 slot, lifted a sacrifice fly to centerfield to put the Mets in front. But Asdrubal Cabrera and Brandon Nimmo followed with strikeouts.
Scherzer was out of trouble, and he’d barely see another hint of it again.
Verrett, by contrast, spent his evening sidestepping land mines of his own creation. Of the four men he walked unintentionally, all four came around to score.
Bryce Harper walked in the second inning, swiped second base and one batter later scored the game-tying run on a Clint Robinson sacrifice fly.
In the third, Verrett committed a cardinal sin, walking counterpart Scherzer and his .132 average. Scherzer scored on Ben Revere’s go-ahead triple down the right-field line. Revere later scored on a single by Murphy.
The former Met struck again in the fifth, this time with a double to left-center field to score Werth, who had worked a two-out walk.
Still, Verrett pitched into the seventh inning and appeared ready to get out of the inning unscathed. But he issued a two-out walk to Werth, then watched from the dugout as Murphy twisted the knife once more.
Aware of the danger looming in the batter’s box, Collins emerged from the dugout and summoned left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo. But his season of misery continued against Murphy, who belted a two-run homer into the Nationals bullpen in leftfield.
With one swing, Murphy effectively put the game out of reach and unleashed yet another wave of the boos that trailed him all night.
Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy (L) celebrates with right fielder Bryce Harper after hitting a home run against the New York Mets. PICTURE: USA TODAY Sports