From castoff to play­offs: Muncy bashes for Dodgers

The Peterborough Examiner - - Sports - BETH HAR­RIS

LOS AN­GE­LES — With all the high-priced tal­ent on the Los An­ge­les Dodgers’ ros­ter, Max Muncy had to find a way to stand out. He has done it with his bat, com­ing from the mi­nors to lead the team in home runs.

He slugged 35 homers in the reg­u­lar sea­son, pro­pelled by a first-half tear that landed him in the Home Run Derby.

Muncy’s three-run drive pow­ered the Dodgers to a win in the opener of their Na­tional League Divi­sion Se­ries against At­lanta, and they even­tu­ally elim­i­nated the Braves in four games.

“The whole ex­pe­ri­ence has been in­cred­i­ble,” Muncy said.

Next up is the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries against Mil­wau­kee start­ing Fri­day, putting Muncy in a best-of-seven se­ries for the first time in his Ma­jor League Base­ball ca­reer.

Don’t ex­pect him to be rat­tled, ei­ther. “Start­ing with game 163, I was kind of ner­vous, but you look at how ev­ery­one else in the club­house is walk­ing around han­dling them­selves,” Muncy said Wed­nes­day. “There’s so much ex­pe­ri­ence there. There’s no panic, there’s no worry. They’re all calm as can be. That kind of res­onates through me. If it wasn’t for those guys, then maybe it’s a dif­fer­ent story.”

His re­sults seem all the more im­prob­a­ble be­cause Muncy isn’t an ev­ery­day player. He pops up any­where from first base to sec­ond to third, and oc­ca­sion­ally the out­field.

The 28-year-old util­ity player was a non­roster in­vi­tee at spring train­ing. He be­gan the sea­son at Triple-A Ok­la­homa City, shiv­er­ing in freez­ing weather dur­ing the team’s opener at Iowa on April 5. Less than two weeks later, Muncy was called up by the Dodgers be­cause of in­juries. He home­red in his sec­ond at-bat and kept on go­ing.

“He’s just killed it for us,” team­mate Ross Stripling.

Dur­ing All-Star week­end, Muncy de­feated the Cubs’ Javier Baez in the first round of the Derby be­fore los­ing to even­tual cham­pion Bryce Harper in the next round.

Af­ter the break, Muncy strug­gled at the plate, with his aver­age dip­ping to .183.

“I was just fo­cused on try­ing to get back to where I needed to be, back to con­trol­ling the strike zone, putting good swings on balls,” he said.

Buoyed by man­ager Dave Roberts’ un­flag­ging be­lief, Muncy re­cov­ered his stroke and has con­tin­ued to con­trib­ute in big mo­ments. One of his best traits is his dis­ci­pline at the plate, know­ing when to let a pitch go by and when to swing.

“It’s just some­thing that I’ve al­ways had,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you kind of ei­ther have it or you don’t.”

Stripling faced Muncy back in their high school days in North Texas and later in col­lege, with Muncy at Bay­lor and Stripling pitch­ing at Texas A&M.

“He was a guy that was al­ways go­ing to com­mand the strike zone and just go­ing to be just an ab­so­lute bru­tal matchup be­cause he spits on good pitches, he com­mands the zone and puts the bat on the ball and walks,” Stripling said af­ter a work­out at Dodger Sta­dium.

“In col­lege he had some power and hit some home runs. He’s made some swing ad­just­ments that have maybe cre­ated some more power,” Stripling said.

A fifth-round pick in the 2012 ma­jor league draft, Muncy was re­leased by Oak­land in March 2017. He got signed by the Dodgers and sent to the mi­nors, where pitcher Walker Buehler was also in Ok­la­homa City.

Six months ago in Iowa, Muncy fig­ured Buehler was a lock to wind up in Los An­ge­les, but wasn’t so sure about him­self.

Now, the rookie and the seven-year jour­ney­man have cre­ated a buzz in the Dodgers’ bid to cap­ture their first World Se­ries cham­pi­onship since

1988.

“I know for both of us to be able to help out this team the en­tire year the way we have it’s just been some­thing that’s been very spe­cial,” Muncy said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Los An­ge­les Dodgers first base­man Max Muncy slugged a whop­ping 35 home runs in the reg­u­lar sea­son, pro­pelled by a first-half tear that landed him in the Home Run Derby.

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