David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Mets had yet to take the field yesterday for their pregame routine, and hitting coach Kevin Long already was lathered with sweat. That’s because his workout begins well before the 7:10 start. By then, Long has thrown dozens of pitches, both indoors and out, with the Mets mashing them off the cage’s webbing and over Citi Field’s walls.
Most times, these practice swings are just that — practice. But the way the Mets are crushing the baseball lately, they’ve settled into a special power groove that continued into Monday night’s 4-1 thumping of the Braves.
David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda ambushed Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz by going deep in the first inning. Wright blasted his home run (No. 3) over the retired numbers in left, about five rows deep. Cespedes and Duda went back-to-back, the fifth time the Mets have done so this season. Duda’s shot went off the facing of the rightfield second deck.StoryMets’ 3-HR, 4-run first backs Bartolo Colon
“I don’t think he even hit that ball flush,” Wright said.
When Sandy Alderson pledged to rebuild the Mets with power arms and muscular bats, we were skeptical about the latter. The arms were in the system. The bats? They cost money.
But Alderson found his eventual No. 3 hitter in the first round of the 2014 draft — the precocious Michael Conforto — and coaxed $27.5 million out of ownership for at least one more guaranteed season of Cespedes.
Those are the core pieces of a Mets lineup that has hit 34 home runs in the last 16 games after leaving the yard only twice through the first eight. They lead the majors in that stretch. Heading into Monday night’s game, the Mets had a .922 OPS in the previous two weeks, also the best in the sport during that period.
“We expect to do damage,” Long said.
Exhibit A was last Friday, when the Mets thumped the Giants — a preseason World Series favorite — by scoring a dozen runs in the third inning, a historic barrage that included a grand slam by Cespedes.
From a revived Curtis Granderson on down, the Mets are delivering haymakers from every spot in the order, with Neil Walker in the early lead with nine homers.
“When you hit like we did the other night in that 12-run inning, everybody wants to be a part of it,” Terry Collins said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, look, I want to get in this parade.’ I think it spreads.”
There was a bit of April serendipity involved, too. Only after the Mets misfired during the season’s opening home stand did Collins choose to shuffle the lineup in Cleveland and elevate Conforto to the No. 3 spot.
Initially, the Mets were protective of their 23-year-old wunderkind. But since removing the training wheels, Conforto has responded by challenging Bryce Harper for player of the month honors.
“You kind of ease him into it,” Long said. “And then when you decide to do it, hopefully he’s ready — and he certainly was.”
Harper took the April award, but Conforto was among the NL’s top players also receiving votes. He entered Monday night batting .373 (22-for-59) with nine doubles, four homers and 15 RBIs in his last 15 games.
Remember, at this time last year, Conforto was at Class A St. Lucie. Now he’s assigned to the most critical lineup spot for the defending National League champions, as well as being mentioned on the same ballot with Harper.
Conforto, unfazed by it all, believes that he belongs in both of those conversations. “I look at him, and I want to be that guy,” he said. “All the guys that are winning MVPs and are superstars in this game — that’s who I want to be like.”
Conforto doesn’t have to look much further than the guy behind him for inspiration. Cespedes’ eighth homer this season already was his 25th in 77 games as a Met — outpacing Carlos Delgado’s previous record of 88.
The flexing, and the winning, seem to go hand-in-hand. “I think if we’re doing what we’re capable of doing,” Duda said, “we’re a tough team to beat.”
What they did again Monday night was inflict more damage, and there’s no reason to suspect the Mets will stop anytime soon.