- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

NEW YORK — Daniel Murphy was last in the visitor’s clubhouse at Citi Field for a fantasy football draft run by then-teammate David Wright. He never had a locker under the third base-side stands. Never pulled on colors other than the New York Mets‘ orange and blue in the stadium. He had only used the other side as a space to pick a quarterback.

Murphy was swathed in Washington Nationals’ red and gray on Tuesday night for his first return to the Mets‘ home park since parting ways with the club over the winter. The Nationals decided to pay his checks after the Mets chose to no longer do so. It had taken almost 10 years before Murphy was part of another organization.

“You spend almost a decade in the Mets organization, so I don’t know if that’s something that I will ever completely wash off,” Murphy said. “But, I will say 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, it kind of put aside what had happened in New York. But, that’s not going to wash off easily. I’ve said this before: Relationships that my wife and our family were able to build will go far beyond baseball. … The red gets more comfortable each day.”

Before the game, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson delivered Murphy’s National League championship ring to him. It’s a gleaming reminder of what the Mets did — and almost did — last season. Murphy added the playoff totals represented by the ring, realizing the Mets won eight postseason games. He mentioned they were three short of the preferred outcome.

At 7:02 p.m, Murphy stood along the third base line watching a video montage the Mets put together for him. His postseason home runs soared. He pumped his fists. The Mets were even gracious enough to include a couple defensive highlights. When the crowd rose to applaud the montage, Murphy clapped, then lifted his hat into the air. The appreciation was repeated the first time he came to the plate.

“It was really nice, really nice,” Murphy said. “Very nice of them. One, for the organization to play that video before the game, they didn’t have to do that, knowing I’m going to go out there and compete against them as hard as I can. Then, the ovation from the crowd left me humbled, to say the least.”

In between was irritation. Murphy spent the latter part of last week lumbering around the Nationals‘ infield. He looked like the below-average fielder he was labeled to be. If there was a negative feeling among New York fans about Murphy, who had delivered so much last season to push the Mets into the World Series, it was derived from his fielding and baserunning. When he dove to stop a would-be single up the middle and ended Tuesday’s first inning, preventing at least a run in the process, the fans were incredulous.

“Where was that last year?” was shouted from more than one Citi Field seat.

It was one of two standout defensive plays made by Murphy on Tuesday.

Like his teammates, Murphy had trouble with Mets starter Noah Syndergaard, who is something of a revelation. Though real, the Mets‘ blonde-haired youngster is suited for the appropriation of comic book powers. He throws 99-mph sinkers, 100-mph fastballs and 91-mph sliders. Perhaps the most frightening thing is that Syndergaard is still in development. After seven shutout innings in the Mets‘ 2-0 win on Tuesday, Syndergaard has thrown just 203 1/3 major-league innings.

“He throws hard,” Murphy deadpanned.

Murphy managed a fisted single to shallow center. He was 1-for-3, dragging his average down to .399.

Repeatedly during his crisp start with the Nationals, Murphy has been asked in various ways what his secret is. He treats the queries with a shrug and responds with basic answers. But, there is a distinct plan unfolding. The Nationals think enough of Murphy’s understanding at the plate that pitching coach Mike Maddux invited him into the pitchers’ meeting for inside information on his former Mets teammates. Further outlining the planning Murphy does to manage a successful at-bat came after the game. He sat at his locker looking through information on an iPad once reporters finally let him be.

The shift in colors is not the only prominent change for Murphy. His new home in Alexandria has a yard. “I don’t think I had enough money to purchase a yard somewhere in Manhattan,” he said. He also communicates differently with his former Mets teammates. Murphy sent Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz a text message to say he was happy an exam of his pitching arm showed only general soreness and no damage. Murphy did not ask Matz if he was pitching against the Nationals — he’s not — though that was unknown in the afternoon. Withholding what would have been a natural query is another wrinkle in his new life.

“The questions have changed a bit,” Murphy said. “But, looking after and seeing how they’re doing and how their families are doing, I don’t think that will ever change.”

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