NEW YORK -- Standing ovations were the norm at Citi Field last fall for Daniel Murphy.
The second baseman enjoyed a singularly superlative postseason as the New York Mets turned the page on nearly a decade of mediocrity and reached the 2015 World Series. His seven postseason home runs, including six in consecutive playoff games, inscribed him in club lore.
Murphy was back for his final standing ovations in New York on Tuesday as the Nationals and Mets played the first game in a season series that seems destined to produce an NL East champion. The first came after Mets showed a pregame video tribute, and he stopped his warmups and doffed his cap at the adulation.
He promised that "once that ends, it's prison rules out there," so when a second ovation greeted him at the plate in the first inning, he paid it no mind.
When he came to bat again in the fourth inning, the crowd showered him with boos. He is a rival now.
The Mets and their fans can be nostalgic about Murphy's departure to the other side. The bad feelings should stop there. Yes, he is batting a league-leading .399 with five home runs and 23 RBIs for the team the Mets are chasing. But everything about his exit was the way it had to go down.
The Mets did the right thing by not extending themselves to keep him. Murphy did the right thing by signing with the Nationals. And everyone should be happy it at least ended with great memories.
"You spend almost a decade in the Mets organization, so I don't know that that's something I'll ever completely wash off, but ... the first time we played the Mets in spring training and I saw the orange and blue on the other side, and I was wearing the red?" Murphy said before first pitch. "It kind of put aside what had happened in New York.
"The red gets more comfortable each day."
The Mets made their bid to keep Murphy, proffering a $15.8 million qualifying offer for a single season. They did not go beyond that, and the Nationals scooped him up with a three-year bid for a total of $37.5 million.
The Mets replaced him by trading a piece they did not need -- left-hander Jon Niese would have been the sixth or seventh starter on the depth chart -- to the Pittsburgh Pirates for second baseman Neil Walker. And by not committing more to the pursuit of Murphy, the Mets had the funds required to bring back the hitter who powered them into the playoffs, Yoenis Cespedes.
Anyone who runs, plays for or roots for the New York would have chosen -- and it was absolutely a choice -- to bring back Cespedes over Murphy every time.
Lost in the sentiments about Murphy were some hard realities about his game. While he could always hit, he was often a defensive liability at second base. And his spotty baserunning -- showcased in the World Series loss to the Kansas City Royals -- was also no asset.
Murphy seemed to know as much when he said, "I never expected anyone to say I played well on the way out of a place. ... You can look at (me) and say, 'He plays hard, and maybe goofy at times, but he plays hard.'"
Walker will be a free agent at season's end but is two things Murphy isn't: a good defender and a solid baserunner. At the plate, he is no slouch either, and he even sports more pop. He is batting just .260 but already has 10 home runs and 20 RBIs.
It is possible that Murphy joined the Nationals as a better hitter than he was for most of his seven seasons with New York. Before the end of the regular season, Mets hitting coaches Kevin Long and Pat Roessler moved him up in the batter's box to improve his ability to hit outside pitches and told him that when he pulls the ball in the air, he is much more dangerous than if he tries to shoot it to left field.
Murphy said the game slowed down for him in the playoffs, and it continues to. It lets him execute a plan at the plate more often. Indeed, he was one of only two Nationals not to whiff in Syndergaard's 10-strikeout effort Tuesday.
Murphy got his NL Championship Series ring from Mets general manager Sandy Alderson before batting practice Tuesday. He said that the applause and affection from the fans "left me humbled to say the least." It's a good finish to the relationship.
He could prove a thorn in the Mets' side this season and help Washington to the playoffs. Or maybe he will see the Mets have another celebration and wonder at what it would have been like to stay.
The cheers at Citi Field have turned to boos now for him. This is how it had to go, and no one should look back.