Justin Turner has given the Mets yet another reason to be sad.
On Sunday, with Game Two of the NLCS tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, the former Met launched a John Lackey fastball over the center field fence for a three-run homer. It was the Dodgers' first walk-off home run in the postseason since Kirk Gibson in 1988. The series now heads to Chicago, with the Dodgers up in the series two-nil.
There was no way the Mets could have predicted Turner becoming the superstar that he is today. Leading up to his non-tender in 2013, Turner was a competent utility infielder, and there was no reason to expect that to change.
Not that a competent utility infielder at a reasonable price tag ($800,000 when he was released) isn’t a valuable piece for an organization to have. Turner slashed .280/.319/.385 and manned every infield position that season. And you may remember the 2013 Mets weren't overrun with great ballplayers to begin with. Even at the time, it made the front office’s decision to non-tender perplexing.
So why did it happen? According to reports, the Mets had "grown tired of what they perceived as a lack of hustle” from Turner. When asked about it, Sandy Alderson did not specifically refer to Turner, but his advice to not “assume every non-tender is a function of money” was pretty transparent.
The turnaround happened in that off-season, when -- at the suggestion of Mets teammate Marlon Byrd, who had grown close to Turner when they played together in Queens -- Turner worked diligently with swing guru Doug Latta. Byrd attributes his own late career resurgence to working with Latta in 2012. Turner toiled for months on addressing the ball earlier in the zone, and in 2014, his slash line jumped to .340/.404/.493. The following two seasons proved that his improvement was no fluke, and in late-2016, the Dodgers re-signed Turner to a four-year, $64 million deal.
Regardless of whether or not the apparent slight by the Mets organization was the motivation he needed to take that extra step, Turner's evolution is a bitter pill to swallow for Mets fans. Watching a player heroically win a playoff game -- a player whom your team let walk away for nothing -- is reminiscent of seeing your “one-who-got-away” in their wedding photos on social media.
The melancholy is compounded by the Mets current third base conundrum, and the constant flux David Wright's health has left it in for the better part of three years. Had the Mets simply been a little more patient, would Sunday's home run have been launched into the Big Apple Reserve? We'll never know, but watching what’s left of this postseason will likely get Mets fans lamenting about what could have been.