CHICAGO -- With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, we know now that the first sign of the New York Mets' plan appeared in Curtis Granderson's initial at-bat of the National League Championship Series, when he squared at the plate and attempted to drop a bunt down against Jon Lester, who isn't comfortable throwing to bases.
Teams will talk about game plans going into a series, about a collective approach they want to take. But once the first pitch is thrown, a lot of that disappears. Just ask Curt Schilling, who pitched against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series in 2004 with a famously stitched ankle and was never once challenged with a bunt.
But here was Granderson following through, being aggressive, trying to make something happen. He fouled off the bunt attempt, but he and the Mets have not stopped pushing and pressuring the Cubs in this way, challenging them -- even on the basepaths, despite ranking 29th of 30 major league teams in steals during the regular season. The Mets have jumped out to a commanding lead in this championship series largely because of this element of the game.
Daniel Murphy provided a great example of how this could work in the Mets' NLDS-deciding Game 5 win against the Dodgers last Thursday, when he took advantage of inattentiveness and raced to third after L.A. forgot to cover the base in a pivotal moment, and in the NLCS the Mets' pressure has been constant.
With the score tied 2-2 in the sixth inning Tuesday, Yoenis Cespedes stole third base -- the Mets' seventh stolen base in eight playoff games -- and then ranged far off third in anticipation of a wild pitch. Moments later, he ran home when a curveball skipped away from Cubs catcher Miguel Montero.
In the seventh inning, Murphy hustled down the line and beat out a roller to third base. Later in the inning, he broke from third base on a bouncer to Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who stepped on first base and then fired home in an effort to cut down Murphy at the plate.
But because Mets manager Terry Collins had put on a contact play for Murphy -- as in, Murphy was expected to take off from third when contact was made -- and because he had taken a strong secondary lead, he beat the throw home with a slide.
When the series with the Cubs began, the Mets talked about doing this, about looking for an edge. The Mets have pitched extremely well, as Cubs manager Joe Maddon said repeatedly after Game 3, and Murphy is a one-man Home Run Derby. But their baserunning in this series has provided a significant advantage, as was the case against the Dodgers.