It’s something that will frighten your dog and give your children nightmares.
With eyes bugged out as wide as possible, teeth bared in a lunatic smile that’s straight out of a comic book – perhaps part Venom and part Joker – and a generally crazed expression on his face while making a guttural scream reserved for the bears he likes to hunt in the offseason, Tom Murphy has found his happy place, and now his happy face?
It was on full display Monday afternoon in the Mariners’ 6-5 come-from-behind, extra-innings victory over the A’s. Murphy’s line-drive fly out to right field was just deep enough for Ty France to tag up from third base and score the winning run in bottom of the 10th inning.
As France slid across home plate, Murphy, who was standing near first base, turned and delivered a flex and that face to his teammates as they poured out of the dugout to celebrate.
“I think we can all agree I take this game pretty seriously and I’m a pretty serious person most of the time, so this is kind of my over-exaggeration of my smile face,” Murphy said. “The guys are loving it right now. It gets a good laugh and keeps things light. I’m going to roll with it until it kind of wears itself out.”
The Mariners’ fifth victory in a row pushed their record to over .500 at 28-27.
It all stems from a conversation with third baseman Kyle Seager on the previous road trip.
“He sort of called me out,” Murphy said. “He said, ‘Hey, you got to have some more fun out there and stuff like that.’ So that day, I just kind of took it to the max and told myself I was going to be as silly and as positive as possible. And that’s what kind of came of it.”
Indeed, Murphy debuted that happy face after a big run-scoring double in a victory over Oakland on May 25.
“I don’t know if that one’s been named yet,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “You don’t see it, but when Murph does have a rough at-bat, he does go a little crazy once in a while down in the tunnel. And I think that this is his happy face, if there is one for Murph. He’s as intense as they come. Our guys love him.”
Normally, a player gets mobbed in that situation, grabbed and has his jersey ripped off. Murphy was having none of that.
“I’m not a fan of people bossing me around like that,” he said. “I tried to give it back to them.”
He got into a wrestler’s stance, flashing that face and shuffled around not letting them get close to tackling him.
“I guess it’s his thing,” pitcher Logan Gilbert said. “I try to stay out of the way. He’s an awesome guy. He scares me sometimes.”
As one of the strongest players on the team and in all of baseball, his teammates weren’t too ready to mix it up with Murphy.
“I was afraid I was gonna a catch a punch in the face or an elbow trying to rip his jersey off,” said Donovan Walton. “It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Seattle trailed 5-4 going into the bottom of the 10th after the A’s got a two-out run-scoring single from Aramis Garcia off Daniel Zamora.
With Jack Mayfield as the designated runner at second base to start the inning, France tied the game with a one-out single through the left side off Lou Trivino. Mayfield isn’t exceptionally fast, but with the weak throwing arm of left-fielder Tony Kemp, third base coach Manny Acta never hesitated in sending Mayfield.
The Mariners got an unexpected break when Gold Glove first baseman Matt Olson booted a routine ground ball from J.P. Crawford. France advanced all the way to third and Crawford hustled to second. The A’s walked Jake Fraley to load the bases and bring up Murphy, who had struck out in his previous at-bat as a pinch hitter.
“I was trying to get the ball up in the air,” Murphy said. “It was as simple as that. Obviously, bases are loaded, one out and a fly ball is going to do the job. Thankfully, I put myself in a good count and got the pitch I needed to do it.”
Gilbert delivered the best outing of his brief big-league career, pitching six innings and allowing two runs on five hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
While he relied heavily on his fastball, throwing it 54 times in 80 pitches, he did use his slider (15) and curveball (10) for good results, particularly when he was ahead in the count.
The A’s grabbed a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Chad Pinder roped a double off the wall in center and advanced to third when Kyle Lewis mishandled it. He scored moments later on Kemp’s deep fly to left field.
But the Mariners answered with a four-run fourth inning, knocking A’s starter James Kaprielian out of the game. With two outs and runners on the corners, Donovan Walton clubbed his first big-league homer – a deep blast to right. Seattle tacked on another run when Jarred Kelenic worked a walk and scored from first on Lewis’ double into the left-field corner.
Gilbert gave up a second run in the fifth when Pinder again got him for a leadoff double and scored on a two-out double from Olson. Gilbert struck out Jed Lowrie to end the fifth and worked a 1-2-3 sixth. He exited the game with a 4-2 lead and in line for his first MLB victory.
“I was trying to be aggressive and just try to get an advantage in counts as soon as possible,” Gilbert said. “And I was able to do that. I was trying to make them beat me on swings on, either early with fastballs or trying to get ahead and expand the zone when I could.”
But the Mariners bullpen couldn’t secure it for him.
Left-hander Anthony Misiewicz created a small mess in the eighth, walking Mark Canha to start the inning and then allowing a shift-beating single to left field to Olson. Kelenic bobbled the ball slightly for a one-base error as Canha hustled to third.
Misiewicz came back to strike out Lowrie and Seth Brown.
Servais went to his bullpen to bring in J.T. Chargois to face Sean Murphy. The move didn’t work as expected. Chargois flinched while taking the signs from catcher Jose Godoy and was immediately called for a balk by home plate umpire Pat Hoberg. Canha jogged home to cut the lead to 4-3 while Olson advanced to second base. That extra 90 feet loomed large when Murphy ripped a deep fly ball to center that was just out of the reach of Lewis, who made a sprinting/leaping attempt on the play. The run-scoring double tied the game at 4-4 and left Gilbert with a no decision.
Lewis would leave the game the next inning with soreness in his right knee from trying to make that catch. It’s the same knee that he’s had multiple surgeries on in the past and also what kept him on the injured list for the first 17 games of the season.
“It’s a little bit similar to maybe what he felt in spring training,” Servais said. “He did miss some time with that. So it’s just precautionary. Let’s get him out of the game and let’s get it checked out.”