(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
For the second straight night, the New York Mets missed a chance to widen their 4½-game National League East lead over the freefalling Washington Nationals (58-58) and an opportunity to send a message to the rest of the NL against a potential playoff opponent.
Instead, the previously hot Mets (63-54), just as they did on Friday night at Citi Field, once again dropped a heartbreaker in extra innings to the wild-card leading Pittsburgh Pirates (68-46).
And although the formerly productive Met bats hit another bump in the road — while losing to the Pittsburgh for the fifth time in as many meetings this season, as New York was mostly handled easily by mediocre starter Charlie Morton and six Pirate relievers to the tune of just seven hits, while striking out 16 times, over a frustrating 14-inning, 5-3 loss on Saturday night — manager Terry Collins noted what a bright spot in a key moment for recent call-up Michael Conforto might mean for the future of his ball club.
Immediately taking advantage of a gift from third baseman Aramis Ramirez (who staked the Pittsburgh to a 2-0 lead with a first-inning home run off of New York starter Jonathon Niese, before committing a throwing error six innings later), Conforto, in his 16th major league contest, demonstrated his long ball power at Citi Field for the first time, with a clutch one-out homer off of Morton to tie the game, 3-3, in the bottom of the seventh.
The blast, which came three at-bats after third baseman Juan Uribe led off the frame with a home run to get the Mets on the scoreboard, was only the second career round-tripper for Conforto. But it was his first at home, and it showed that the still relatively inexperienced 22-year-old, 2014 first round draft pick was undaunted by the pressure of playing in the thick of a pennant race before 38,878 fans who suddenly expect a lot more of the Mets than they have at any time since 2008 this time of year.
After saying, “We played hard, we played well. You get the home stand off to a good start, you lose two extra-inning games, [it’s] tough,” Collins quickly praised Conforto while looking ahead.
“It was a great at-bat by Michael,” Collins said. “It was certainly one we needed. He’s going to be a good hitter. We see [his] power in batting practice. [That’s] going to start translating a lot into the games. So, a great swing by him, something we needed. I wish we could have got [the same] out of somebody else.”
For now, Conforto is still looking to hit with more consistency, as his poor .229 batting average, along with 15 strikeouts, in a still small sample size of only 48 at-bats indicates.
But he’s also had a decent amount of production out of on his limited number (11) of hits, with 14 runs scored, 10 runs batted in and being in the middle of a pair of routs.
He was an impressive 4-for-4 with four runs scored in his second career game, during the Mets’ 15-2 crushing of Los Angeles, at home, on July 25.
Nine days later, Conforto’s other dinger came on August 3 in Miami, a three-run, second-inning shot which broke a scoreless tie and jump-started a 12-1 New York win and a 4-2 road trip, one that led to the Mets coming home to sweep a four-game series with Colorado before Pittsburgh, over the next two nights, threw a dash of cold water on New York’s most important hot streak of the season to date.
Although the Mets were disappointed to drop the first two games of their three-game series with the Pirates, Conforto won’t forget the feeling of coming through when counted on in a big spot against Pittsburgh.
“Indescribable,” the rookie Seattle native said. “It’s definitely something I’ll always remember.”
And as Collins alluded to, it may only be the first of many similar moments to come for Conforto in front of the Citi Field faithful.