TODAY'S PAPER
Scattered Clouds 46° Good Evening
Scattered Clouds 46° Good Evening
SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Terry Collins' faith in Conforto pays off

New York Mets left fielder Michael Conforto (30)

New York Mets left fielder Michael Conforto (30) with the sixth inning during Game 4 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals at Citi Field on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. Photo Credit: Newsday/ J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The scene was a boozy, jubilant visitors clubhouse inside Wrigley Field, where the Mets had just clinched the National League pennant. Michael Conforto was standing in a place he never thought he'd be this season, surrounded by teammates he still was awed by, despite wearing the same uniform for the past three months.

"Someday," Conforto said, the champagne dripping from his hair, "I'll be able to tell my kids I played with Daniel Murphy."

After what Conforto did Saturday night -- before the Mets fell 5-3 -- in Game 4 of this World Series, a few Mets might end up saying the same thing about him, the baby-faced outfielder who went from Class A St. Lucie to World Series hero in the span of seven months.

Terry Collins chose to roll the dice on the 22-year-old rookie, starting Conforto rather than Juan Lagares against the Royals, and it turned out to be another winning decision by the manager. A gutsy one, too.

Conforto snapped an 0-for-20 skid Friday with an RBI single, and Saturday night crushed a pair of home runs. For all the comparisons made between these Mets and their 1986 brethren, in having to claw back from an 0-2 deficit, Conforto added another by joining Gary Carter as the only two Mets to homer twice in a World Series game.

Collins has stuck with Conforto and the lineup that got the Mets to within three victories of a world championship. Starting Lagares, who won a Gold Glove last year, would give the Mets a superior defensive outfield by shifting Yoenis Cespedes to left. And Lagares had been looking good at the plate.

But that went against Collins' better judgment, and a feeling that Conforto could break out at any moment. After Huddling with his coaching staff, Collins agreed "100 percent" there was no reason to switch things up now.

"This is the team we won with," Collins said the other day. "This is the team that's had the most success against righthanded pitching. This is the team we should go with. This guy [Conforto] has had very, very good at-bats and has nothing to show for it.

"He goes up there and every time he gets in the batter's box, you think he's going to hit one in the seats."

Not only has Collins been managing lately with a hot hand, he apparently can see the future. Conforto, against righty Chris Young, homered in his first two at-bats. He opened the third inning by drilling a first-pitch, 87-mph fastball roughly 10 rows deep into the Pepsi Porch, an impressive blast that hooked inside the rightfield pole.

Conforto's homer in the fifth inning, another leadoff shot, didn't travel quite as high as the Pepsi missile. But it was even more impressive because it came off lefthanded reliever Danny Duffy. Collins was reluctant to play Conforto against lefties during the regular season -- only 15 of his 194 total plate appearances.

Conforto hung tough after falling behind 0-and-2, laying off two curveballs before reaching down to golf a third over the bullpen roof in rightfield. Of his four hits this postseason, three are home runs. He became the sixth Mets player to homer twice in a playoff game, and first since Carlos Beltran did it in Game 4 of the 2006 NLCS.

Conforto was probably a seventh-grader at the time of Beltran's feat. And as the youngest Met to homer in a World Series game (22 years, 244 days) he wasn't even born when Lenny Dykstra previously held that distinction, in Game 3 of the '86 Fall Classic at the age of 23 years, 253 days.

At this rate, Conforto is sure to carve out plenty more spots for himself in the Mets' record book, and Collins' confidence in him is growing rapidly. Though Collins still uses Lagares as a defensive replacement in the late innings, as the manager did Saturday night, Conforto already had done his damage by then.

And authored an even better story to tell his kids some day.

New York Sports