WASHINGTON — Michael Conforto had to wait his turn. He had to come off the bench. That’s tough for a young player, they say. Maybe he’d be better off playing every day in Triple-A, they say.
What did Conforto say? Pretty much the heck with them and what they say.
Conforto wants to be in the majors. He hit well off the bench, was pressed into service as a centerfielder and leadoff man, and two days ago became the Mets’ leftfielder when Yoenis Cespedes went on the disabled list.
Through it all, Conforto hit. On Saturday, he had his first career two home run game — including his first homer off a lefthanded pitcher — to power the Mets to a 5-3 victory over the Nationals before 36,501 at Nationals Park.
Conspicuous among the crowd was a group of orange-clad Mets fans in the leftfield stands. Members of the 7 Line Army, they got to serenade Conforto after his tiebreaking two-run homer in the fifth inning and his blast into the Mets bullpen in left-centerfield in the eighth.
The Mets had lost six in a row and 10 of 11 before beating Washington on Friday, 7-5. The Nationals had won nine of 10, including a three-game sweep at Citi Field last weekend.
After beating Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Mets get a chance on Sunday to return the favor when Noah Syndergaard faces Joe Ross. What a difference a couple of days makes.
“It’s huge,” Conforto said. “But you know, we had a feeling this was coming. We have a lot of faith in ourselves. Things were going bad for a bit, but there’s no panic in here. We’ve got a lot of veteran guys to keep us level. Just keep our heads down, keep playing, fight a little bit.”
One thing Conforto won’t have to do while Cespedes is out is fight for at-bats. In his 12th start of the season, Conforto went 3-for-4 with three RBIs. He is batting .333, including .341 as a starter with all six of his home runs and 10 of his 12 RBIs.
“Today Michael had a huge day for us,” manager Terry Collins said, “and we certainly really needed it.”
He wasn’t the only one. A resurgent Jose Reyes went 2-for-4 with a home run, Zack Wheeler gutted out 4 2⁄3 tough innings and closer Jeurys Familia rebounded from getting pulled in the ninth inning on Friday to throw a 1-2-3 ninth for his first save of the season.
“We talked the other day about when we started playing well last year, it wasn’t one guy,” Collins said. “That’s how you’re going to win. You can’t just turn to one guy all the time.”
Conforto provided the pop, but it was Wheeler who held the hard-hitting Nationals to just a first-inning run despite being in trouble all afternoon.
Ryan Zimmerman (3-for-4, home run, three RBIs) gave Washington a 1-0 lead with a two-out RBI single in the first. It stayed that way until the fifth, when Travis d’Arnaud tied the game with a run-scoring groundout and Conforto gave the Mets a 3-1 lead with a blast to right off Strasburg (2-1).
The Nationals pulled to within 3-2 on another RBI single by Zimmerman in the bottom of the fifth. Wheeler was one out away from a possible win when Collins brought in Josh Edgin, who got Daniel Murphy on a fly to right to end the inning.
On Friday, it was Edgin who relieved Familia with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth and got Bryce Harper to ground into a 1-2-3 double play for his second career save. The Mets kept Harper in check again on Saturday as the MVP candidate went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a double play and left six men on base.
Conforto homered off lefthander Enny Romero to make it 4-2 in the eighth — the drive was caught by Addison Reed in the bullpen — but Zimmerman hit his 11th of the season off Reed in the bottom of the inning to make it 4-3.
Reyes homered in the top of the ninth to provide the final margin.
“We know we were struggling coming into this series,” Reyes said. “We always believe in what we can do and right now we’re starting to put it all together. Hopefully, we can continue to play the way we played the first two games here.”