NEW YORK — Matt Harvey, Daniel Murphy and the New York Mets have a mind to make some history of their own, the kind that would break the Cubs’ hearts one more tormenting time.
Harvey delivered the big-game performance he’s been pining for, Murphy took his latest star turn on the October stage and the Mets beat Chicago 4-2 Saturday night in their NL Championship Series opener.
“I wanted this game bad,” Harvey said.
After eliminating rival St. Louis and streaking into New York with 12 wins in 13 games, the power-hitting Cubs and their young sluggers were stopped cold on a chilly night at Citi Field. Trying to end a championship drought that dates to 1908, they remained four wins from capturing their first pennant in seven decades.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven set is Sunday night, with Cubs ace Jake Arrieta facing rookie Noah Syndergaard.
“If Harvey wasn’t pitching, it would have looked a lot better. He was outstanding tonight,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “His stuff is always good, but the command was outrageous tonight.”
Harvey pitched into the eighth for the first time in more than two months, brushing aside all that hoopla last month about his innings limit.
“I talk to this guy every day. I know exactly what he’s made of,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “He wants the baseball.”
Jeurys Familia got four outs for his third playoff save and New York jumped ahead in its first NLCS since 2006 by beating the Cubs for the first time all year. The Mets went 0-7 during the season series and had dropped nine in a row to Chicago overall.
New York is looking to reach the World Series for the first time in 15 years, the longest absence in franchise history but one the Cubs and all their pained, loyal followers would certainly scoff at.
Murphy connected off losing pitcher Jon Lester for his fourth homer of the playoffs and made a diving play at second base for the final out.
“I freaked out when I caught it — and then you’ve got to make the throw,” Murphy said. “I was in the right spot.”
Yoenis Cespedes threw out a runner at the plate, Curtis Granderson drove in two runs and Travis d’Arnaud homered off the giant, red Mets apple in straightaway center field.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Murphy said.
Kyle Schwarber was the only one of those rookie boppers who showed off his power for the Cubs, hitting a mammoth homer that chased Harvey with two outs in the eighth and pulled Chicago to 4-2.
Murphy finished off the Dodgers in the deciding game of their Division Series with an all-around offensive performance that inspired a “Mr. October” nod in a tweet from the New York original, Reggie Jackson.
Two nights later, the free-agent-to-be was at it again, getting the Mets off to a rollicking start against Chicago.
Murphy, who set a career high this season with 14 homers, launched another one into the second deck in right field for his fourth of the postseason. By taking Clayton Kershaw (twice), Zack Greinke and Lester deep, the 2014 All-Star has tagged $517 million worth of pitchers in these playoffs.
It was Murphy’s third homer against a left-hander in the playoffs — he had one during the regular season. And by connecting in his third consecutive postseason game, he matched a Mets record set by Donn Clendenon in 1969, the year he was World Series MVP.
“Saving the homers,” Murphy joked. “If I knew what I was doing I would have hit more homers during the regular season.”
Granderson’s soft RBI single on an 0-2 pitch from Lester put the Mets up 2-1 in the fifth, and d’Arnaud hit a 431-foot drive to center in the sixth. Juan Lagares stole third against Lester in the seventh and scored on Granderson’s sacrifice fly.
With that familiar October chill in the New York air for the first time this postseason, Harvey came out firing 95-96 mph heat on a 48-degree night. He threw 23 of his first 29 pitches for strikes and retired his initial 12 batters, six on strikeouts.
The right-hander was rolling along until he plunked Anthony Rizzo in the right arm with an 0-2 pitch to start the fifth. Starlin Castro lined the next offering to deep center field and Gold Glove winner Lagares, wearing a ski mask that covered most of his face, froze for just a beat as the ball sailed over his head for an RBI double that might have been aided by a 15 mph wind.
One out later, Cespedes charged Javier Baez’s sharp ground single to left and cut down Castro at the plate by a couple of steps to keep the score tied at 1.
That helped Harvey out of trouble — and he got some good fortune, too.
Chicago hit several line drives that were turned into outs, including one that prompted Harvey to duck quickly out of the way and another that struck the pitcher in the back of the head.
Harvey threw to first for the out and immediately waved off Mets trainer Ray Ramirez, who came out to check anyway with Collins before they left Harvey on the mound.
It was his game, indeed.
“The ball kind of dented my arm a little bit. Got me right in the triceps,” Harvey said. “It’s a little bit swollen right now, but the training staff will take care of that.”
Cubs: Arrieta went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA this season and is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA and 20 strikeouts in two playoff starts. No Cubs pitcher has won three games in one postseason. The right-hander was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in two outings against the Mets this season, striking out 17 in 16 innings. He will be pitching on an extra day of rest.
Mets: Syndergaard lost his major league debut 6-1 to Arrieta at Wrigley Field in May. “I remember I fell behind a few batters. Still kind of was a lot to take in. I just feel like a completely different pitcher now,” he said Saturday.