New York Mets strike first in NLCS with 4-2 win

By Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 18, 2015 at 12:43 AM
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NEW YORK -- The 24 hours leading up to Game 1 of the National League Championship Series were filled with the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs agreeing the Mets were not the same club the Cubs beat seven times without a loss during the regular season.

On Saturday night, the Mets spent nine innings proving it.

Right-hander Matt Harvey made a rare foray into the eighth inning, second baseman Daniel Murphy continued his red-hot hitting by homering in a career-high third straight game and the normally slow-footed Mets created their final two runs via small ball in a 4-2 victory over the Cubs at Citi Field.

"I think everything that we're doing right now, we're playing pretty good baseball," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

They are playing a brand of baseball that was unimaginable during the first four months of the season, a stretch that included a 20-game span from June 17 through July 8 in which the Mets hit just three homers.

The Mets might have bottomed out during a three-game sweep by the Cubs from June 30 to July 2 during which they were outscored 9-1. On July 1, rookie outfielder Darrell Ceciliani failed to lay down a suicide squeeze in the eighth inning of a 1-0, 11-inning loss.

"We're definitely a different team now, there's no question about that," Mets first baseman Michael Cuddyer said. "It's a different team. different confidence level, different atmosphere."

There were no such power outages nor hiccups on the bases from the Mets on Saturday, when Murphy whipped the sellout crowd of 44,287 into a frenzy with a two-out, first-inning homer off advertising signage along the second deck in right field. Murphy has homered in three straight games, something he has never achieved during the regular season.

"This guy, he likes to be on the big stage," Collins said of Murphy. "On this team, you can get overshadowed a little bit, all the stars that are here."

One of those attention-grabbing stars is Harvey, who has been the subject of an innings limit debate for weeks as he completes his first season after Tommy John elbow surgery. Harvey also garnered some headlines by missing the Mets' first playoff workout on Oct. 5.

But the Mets certainly didn't mind the news Harvey made Saturday, when he retired the first 12 batters he faced and ended up allowing two runs, four hits and two walks while striking out nine.

"Our guys were really good," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Sometimes you have to give credit to the other guy pitching, and he was really that good tonight."

Harvey, who threw 97 pitches (64 strikes), recorded an out beyond the seventh inning for the first time since Aug. 11 and only the sixth time in 31 starts.

"I know there's been a lot of speculation or talk going around the past month," Harvey said. "I kind of wanted to stop all that and really go out there and do everything I could for the team."

The Cubs tied the score in the fifth when Harvey's perfect game, no-hitter and shutout all ended in a span of two pitches. Harvey plunked first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who scored on second baseman Starlin Castro's double to deep center.

One out later, shortstop Javier Baez singled to left, but the score remained tied when Castro was thrown out at home by Yoenis Cespedes.

The Mets took the lead for good in the bottom of the inning, when shortstop Wilmer Flores and Lagares each singled with one out. Flores was forced at third on a bunt by Harvey -- only his second successful sacrifice of the season -- but right fielder Curtis Granderson's single brought home Lagares.

"Tonight, that was the game plan -- be aggressive," Cuddyer said.

Catcher Travis d'Arnaud homered off the home run apple in the sixth. Counting the playoffs, the Mets have 33 multi-homer games in 71 games since July 25, the day after they began rebuilding the offense by acquiring infielders Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson.

"In recent years, we had a tough time getting back in games because we didn't have a lot of power," Collins said. "This year, we do, and that's why I think we're sitting where we are."

The Mets built another run in the seventh when Lagares singled, went to second on another Harvey bunt, stole third and scored on Granderson's sacrifice fly.

Harvey exited to a standing ovation and chants of "HAR-VEY" after giving up a long homer to left fielder Kyle Schwarber. Right-hander Jeurys Familia allowed a walk and a hit while getting the final four outs for his third postseason save.

Cubs left-hander Jon Lester allowed four runs, eight hits and one walk while striking out five in 6 2/3 innings.

Chicago will try to even the series Sunday when right-hander Jake Arrieta, who has a 1.44 ERA in his last 22 starts, opposes rookie Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard, who struck out 11 in 7 1/3 innings in the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"They're very good tomorrow, too," Maddon said. "We just have to be able to generate some offense against their pitching."

NOTES: Each team made one change to its NLCS roster. The Mets added LHP Sean Gilmartin and dropped RHP Erik Goeddel, who didn't get an out in his lone NL Division Series appearance. The Cubs added OF Quintin Berry and dropped INF Addison Russell, who sustained a hamstring injury in Game 3 of the NLDS. ... This is the first LCS in which one team swept the other during the regular season. The two previous teams to post just one regular-season win against an LCS opponent both won the LCS: The 1983 Philadelphia Phillies (1-11 against the Los Angeles Dodgers) and the 1988 Dodgers (1-10 against the Mets).

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