Saw this one coming, did you? If so, you should be playing the market, hanging out in a sports book, announcing you’re a descendant of Nostradamus.
It’s Justin Turner, the one-man marvel. Released in the off-season by the Mets, his career stalling at age 29, it probably looked to many like his career had reached its brief end.
And look at him now. He’s the discovery of 2014, a utility man who can play all over the infield, hit right-handed and left-handed pitching, is a good pinch-hitter and spot starter, and in his spare time helps little old ladies across the street.
Turner leads the team in hitting (.333) and has been their most consistent hitter for four months. Then Tuesday night he hits two home runs off one of baseball’s best pitchers, the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, to lead the Dodgers to a 4-2 win and reduce their magic number to one.
“It was a blast,” Turner said. “I was floating around those bases. The fans were going nuts. They were awesome tonight and they were awesome last night and I know they’re going to be even louder tomorrow. And hopefully we can get it done tomorrow night.”
Turner now has seven home runs and 41 RBIs, tied with Andre Ethier for seventh on the team. His .482 slugging percentage is third on a team filled with superstars.
All this for a guy who was brought to camp as a non-roster invitee. In the off-season the Dodgers lost Skip Schumaker, Nick Pinto and Jerry Hairston Jr., all valued utility players. General Manager Ned Colletti signed the red-headed Turner, hoping he could take up a utility role, not become some kind of one-man wrecking crew.
Really, who saw this coming?
“You should talk to Ned,” said Manager Don Mattingly. “Maybe he felt like this was there.”
In parts of five seasons, the Cal State Fullerton product was a career .260 hitter with a total of eight home runs. He wasn’t anywhere near what he’s doing now.
“I’ve got a pretty good feeling in the box,” he said. “Sometimes that doesn’t last throughout a whole season. I’ve been working my butt off to make sure I maintain the feeling I have every time I step into the box right now that I’ve pretty much had for the whole season.”
Turner actually got off to a slow start. He was hitting just .175 with no home runs and four RBIs in his first 22 games. In his last 83 games, he’s hit .371 with seven homers and 37 RBIs.
He’s continued to work hard daily with hitting coaches Mark McGwire and John Valentine to keep sharp. He’s been remarkably consistent. It’s paid off better than anyone could have imagined.
“It’s been good, it’s been fun walking up to the plate and having confidence every time and feeling good,” he said.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to play meaningful games in September, so the adrenalin, the excitement, the preparation, coming to the yard every day knowing you’re playing a big game. I don’t know, I guess it drives you a little bit more.”