MIAMI — Rare but reassuring, the greatest signal that the Mets were approaching a win Saturday night came in the bottom of the eighth, minutes after Robinson Cano’s go-ahead two-run home run, when manager Mickey Callaway installed their de facto victory formation.
A late lead with a fully rested bullpen meant going all-out to lock it down. Seth Lugo on in relief. Juan Lagares playing centerfield. Michael Conforto shifted to right. Jeff McNeil switched over to his more common home in left. Adeiny Hechavarria in for Amed Rosario at shortstop.
It hasn’t happened as often as the Mets (41-51) would like of late, but this time it all worked out as they finished off a 4-2 win over the Marlins (34-56).
“We’ve done that some in the past, and all of a sudden you have to score more runs,” Callaway said, referencing the Mets’ many blown leads. “It’s not an easy decision, but you have to do it. You gotta put your best defense out there.”
Noah Syndergaard was mostly brilliant in his best start in a month. Conforto contributed an early two-run homer and McNeil had another multi-hit game. Lugo and Edwin Diaz each tossed a scoreless inning.
The game-changer, though, was Cano’s home run, his first since June 17. It landed in the rightfield upper deck at Marlins Park. His five homers this season match the total by Mets pitchers.
“He needed it,” Callaway said. “To get a go-ahead home run has to make him feel good about himself tonight.”
“It means a lot,” Cano said, “not because I hit a homer, just because it helped the team to win a game. I know in that situation I haven’t been so successful this year.”
Syndergaard allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings. He struck out nine and walked none.
“Mechanically, it was the most comfortable I’ve felt on the mound in a long time,” he said, noting that his slider felt better than it has all season.
Syndergaard struck out five consecutive batters in the second and third innings. His only blip came in the fourth, when the Marlins scored twice to tie it.
Neil Walker led off with a single, advanced to second on Syndergaard’s errant pickoff throw and scored on Harold Ramirez’s one-out double to left. Jorge Alfaro followed with an RBI triple into the rightfield corner.
After that, Syndergaard settled down. JT Riddle struck out swinging and Zac Gallen (five innings, two runs) was retired on a tapper in front of the plate to end the fourth, beginning a stretch of 11 straight batters retired by Syndergaard to conclude his night.
Conforto gave the Mets a third-inning lead with a two-run shot to right, a nice development for the centerfielder-by-default, who has struggled the past month and a half. The homer was his first since June 24.
Before suffering a concussion in mid-May, Conforto had a .271/.406/.521 slash line in 42 games. He missed 10 days and posted a .212/.308/.411 slash line in 40 games entering Saturday.
That’s when Callaway decided on a lineup tweak: Instead of dropping Conforto, which he had done mostly against lefthanders recently, he moved him to the No. 2 spot between McNeil, who leads the major leagues in hitting at .350, and Pete Alonso, one of the best power threats in the majors.
Conforto, who believes the concussion and slump are unrelated, hoped hitting in front of Alonso would be beneficial.
“Is Pete behind me?” Conforto said before the game, knowing the answer. “I’ll probably get some pitches to hit. They’re not going to want to face that big boy behind me. That’s always nice when you got a guy like him behind you.”
He also noted that pitchers seem to have adopted a backward approach when facing him. After he started doing damage on fastballs inside, they began to start his at-bats with off-speed offerings, he said, and then tried a fastball away later in the at-bat.
Said Conforto, “I have to be smart enough and focused enough to make the right decisions in those at-bats.”
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