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Nationals' Daniel Murphy is getting hits and having fun

Nationals' Daniel Murphy is getting hits and having fun
Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy gets a hit in front of Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Only one man has played more games at Nationals Park than Jayson Werth, who said Sunday's conditions for Game 2 of the National League division series were the worst he'd ever experienced at this stadium. The howling wind raged in from left field, with gusts surging past 30 mph. It was chilly. By the fifth inning, shadows engulfed most of the infield.

The Dodgers went more than one hour without a hit. Somehow, Daniel Murphy, Washington's injured cleanup hitter, managed two in the same time.

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"Aside from Daniel Murphy, who is not human," said Dodgers right fielder Josh Reddick, "everyone was struggling to see the ball."

Murphy did not make an out in the Nationals' 5-2 victory. He jumped Rich Hill's first-pitch curveball for a second-inning single, walked, singled with an easy swing on another Hill curveball and singled once more off left-hander Grant Dayton. He benefited, he said, from Saturday's postponement. He spent much of the freed-up afternoon watching extra video of Hill.

He offered that explanation for his playoff success: Because of the inherent breaks in the schedule and because of the understanding of exactly whom he will face, he has more time to prepare and thus feels markedly more prepared. He is also having a great time.

"Most of the guys in this room have more postseason experience than I do," Murphy said. "Hopefully the more you're able to play in the postseason, the more it seems like you're able to try to keep your heart rate down, and you're able to go and recollect on situations you've been in before. And so that's what I've seen, with all the guys on our team: we're able to pull on past experiences."

For him, those are mostly positive. Murphy, 31, was still a New York Met during last year's National League division series, his first postseason series. He pounded the Dodgers for seven hits, including three home runs, in 21 plate appearances. He did what no man had managed to do the entire season and homered against Clayton Kershaw, twice, and once against Zack Greinke, the latter the series-winning solo shot in Game 5.

He continued that surge another round. In the Mets' four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs, Murphy clobbered four home runs and ensured he'd receive a $15.8-million qualifying offer from New York. He turned that down, signed with rival Washington and never let up. He bested his career rate statistics in every month this season.

"Ever since last year," Reddick said, "he just seems to be the guy who comes up in the clutch. Watching him early on in his career, it wasn't as simple as a swing as it is now. He just gets that foot out there and uses his hands and lets the hands work. He's something special."

Murphy's run really began in May 2015, when Mets hitting coach Kevin Long had him scrap his lifelong approach as a spray hitter and instead aim to pull the ball down the first base line for power. He also began to crouch more in the batter's box and inch closer to the plate.

"He doesn't bail out on any pitches," Hill said Sunday. "He hangs in there on breaking balls, which is something you don't see out of a lot of left-handers. That's the reason he's right there for the biggest thing that I saw."

Murphy hit .347 with 25 home runs in the regular season and is now an NL MVP candidate. He is also hurt. He strained his buttocks sometime in September, at a time neither he nor the Nationals have disclosed. Before Friday's Game 1, he had not started a game in 18 days. And yet he hit as if he was streaking.

In his first postseason at-bat, he battled Kershaw to a 2-and-2 count and then delivered a single, smiling wide at first base. When Jose Lobaton homered in Sunday's fourth inning, Murphy hopped in between second and third base, incapable of holding in his excitement.

"Senses are so heightened in the playoffs, from a hitter's perspective," Murphy said. "It's so much fun. You get to the end of it, you're absolutely exhausted."

Twitter: @pedromoura

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