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Mets hoping Michael Conforto gives them big spark

Mets' Michael Conforto looks on from the dugout

Mets' Michael Conforto looks on from the dugout against the Colorado Rockies during Game 2 of a doubleheader at Citi Field on Thursday, May 27, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There was a time when the Mets were next-to-last in runs scored, had a misfiring offense, and for whatever reason, couldn’t find the plate with a GPS device.

The solution? Activating Michael Conforto.

But we’re not talking about Wednesday, which is when Conforto rejoined the Mets’ lineup, batting third, after five weeks on the injured list with a right hamstring strain.

That year was 2015, and the Mets were so desperate for a spark that then-GM Sandy Alderson reached all the way down to Double-A Binghamton to promote Conforto, a sweet-swinging 22-year-old and the team’s No. 10 overall pick.

 

What followed was a historic season, and Conforto’s call-up preceded Alderson’s other seismic move, the trade for Yoenis Cespedes the following week. Three months later, the Mets were playing in the World Series.

Is Conforto’s long-awaited return going to help trigger a similar revival for these sagging Mets, who entered Wednesday’s series finale against Atlanta ranked 29th in runs per game at 3.62, just slightly ahead of the woeful Pirates (3.54)?

The early evidence points to a definite maybe, as Conforto ripped a 110-mph double in his first at-bat, went 2-for-3 with a walk and also scored two runs in the Mets’ 7-3 victory. Conforto’s impact seemed contagious, as he combined with Jeff McNeil and Francisco Lindor (HR, 3 RBIs) to go 7-for-13 at the top of the order, fueling a Mets’ 13-hit attack that ended the streak of two consecutive shutouts (and four the past week).

"It was awesome," Conforto said afterward. "Obviously getting that first one out of the way in the first at-bat is great. The process started pretty quick there, so it was good to jump right into the action, test the hamstring. I didn’t have any doubt about it, but nevertheless it was good to get a nice solid run in and from there I just kind of stopped thinking about it."

The Mets were relieved as well. After watching too many players topple like dominoes through the first 2 1/2 months, and the casualties accelerate again this past week, seeing Conforto’s immediate contribution — and then staying mobile for all nine innings — was a much-needed confidence boost.

"He came out of the chute swinging the bat like we expected him to swing it," manager Luis Rojas said. "That’s why he was hitting third, because we felt that he was going to connect with McNeil and Lindor like he did tonight."

The pre-hamstring narrative surrounding Conforto was all about his pending free agency, despite him politely ending any media queries about his conversations with the Mets. And it’s not an ideal situation when a big chunk of your walk year involves being unable to literally walk, as Conforto was hobbled by the relatively severe strain.

Upon Wednesday’s return, however, Conforto recognized the importance of taking one step at a time, and he can’t worry about the numbers lost during his IL stint. As far as the contract goes, he’s got more immediate priorities.

"Well, I’ve never really looked at as playing for the contract," Conforto said before the game. "I just felt like it’s another year, another opportunity to go make a deep playoff push and win a World Series. I won’t lie and say I don’t think about those things. But it kind of goes with what I was saying about the rehab — the only productive way to go is forward.

"To linger on the injury doesn’t help me, so I’m just going to keep moving forward, stick to the mentality of helping the team win and at the end of the year, we’ll see where we’re at. But I’ll be happy if we’re playing in October, and making a deep push, and hopefully winning the World Series."

The Mets’ odds significantly improve with a healthy Conforto, who finally had freed himself from an early-season slump when the hamstring betrayed him. In the 20 games leading up to the injury, Conforto was batting .265 with two homers, 10 RBIs and a .780 OPS. Since May 1, he was 7-for-12 (.583) with runners in scoring position, but he struck out in his only chance Wednesday in the eighth inning.

The good news? Conforto should be getting plenty more.

"He’s been doing that for a very long time in New York and he just adds another weapon to the lineup," Lindor said. "He puts quality at-bats together throughout the game and that always helps."

The Mets, desperate again for Conforto, could not have been happier to see him more than ready to do just that.

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