DETROIT – Sometimes the concept of doing cartwheels in celebration isn’t just an expression, but an actual thing.
Well, at least for this series it will be for Mariners catcher Tom Murphy.
Lost in the attention of Kyle Seager’s three homers Tuesday night was the fact that Murphy hit a pair of solo homers, following Seager’s first two home runs in the fourth and sixth innings. He tried hard for a third after Seager’s third homer in the ninth but settled for a walk.
It was the ninth and 10th time this season the Mariners have clubbed back-to-back home runs, but it’s only the third time in club history a pair of Seattle teammates have hit back-to-back home runs twice in a single game.
Bret Boone and Mike Cameron were the last to accomplish this feat on May 2, 2002 vs. the White Sox when they hit back-to-back home runs twice in the first inning. Cameron hit four homers in the game. Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez also hit back-to-back home runs in the second and fourth innings on April 21, 1996 vs. Toronto at the Kingdome.
But it was more than just the rare double back-to-back homer situations that had Murphy on the highlight shows and all over baseball Twitter on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.
After each of his homers, Murphy did a cartwheel through a tunnel of teammates in the first-base dugout at Comerica Field.
This was atypical for the normally stoic Murphy. But it was based off a comment made to coach Jared Sandberg before the game.
“Those dugouts are enormous,” Murphy said postgame. “I told Sandberg before the game that if I hit a homer, I’m going to do a cartwheel in here because it’s big enough to do a cartwheel. He started laughing, and I don’t think he really thought I’d do it. Just as I was rounding third, I realized I had to do it. And I just kind of went for it.”
While the cartwheel after the first homer caught a few teammates by surprise, the cartwheel after the second homer was not only expected but demanded.
“Of course, he had to do it again,” manager Scott Servais said.
For a catcher that is listed at 218 pounds on a frame that seems to be all muscle, Murphy’s cartwheels were pretty solid. But he’s been practicing them with his daughter, who is very into gymnastics.
“My wife just texted and said my daughter said that was the worst cartwheel she’d ever seen,” Murphy said. “She’s a little bit of an expert, so she’s a stickler. It felt good to me. But my legs have to be perfectly straight, my toes pointed, and I just didn’t accomplish that, I guess.”
And while the cartwheels are a fun aside, the emergence of Murphy and the progression of Omar Narvaez have given Seattle their most productive catching tandem in club history. They’ve accounted for all but one game behind the plate for Seattle this season. David Freitas played in one game, going 0 for 4 with a run scored.
This season, Seattle’s catchers have produced a .297/.356/.529 slash line (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) with a combined 14 doubles, a triple, 29 homers and 70 RBI. Per Fangraphs, they have been worth 14.2 runs above average. The next-closest is the Cubs at 9.6 runs above average. Fangraphs also uses a metric called weighted runs created plus (wRC+) which “is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs.”
Mariners catchers have produced a 124 wRC+ with the Twins next-closest at 116. Their overall Wins Above Replacement is only 2.9 because their defensive metrics drag it down.
While the Mariners went out and got Narvaez in the offseason from the White Sox to serve as their starting catcher in a trade that sent Alex Colome to Chicago, Murphy wasn’t a part of their plans until he became available a few days into the season.
A once-promising prospect with the Rockies, he was out of options this spring and wasn’t going to make Colorado’s opening-day roster. He was designated for assignment near the end of spring training and quickly claimed by the Giants. He never played a game in San Francisco. The Giants designated him shortly after he was claimed. The Mariners didn’t want to wait for another team to claim Murphy. They worked out a small trade to get a backup catcher for this season.
Murphy, 28, has exceeded expectations, posting a .273/.304/.541 slash line with eight doubles, a triple, 12 homers and 27 RBI in 50 games. He’s been so productive that the Mariners are platooning him with Narvaez. It’s allowed Murphy to produce and cement himself in the Mariners’ plans beyond this season. He never got that sort of extended opportunity with the Rockies.
“It means everything to me,” he said. “This to me is basically the start of my career, in my opinion. It’s one of those things I will be forever grateful for, and I show up every day hoping to accomplish what they saw in me.”