Talk about an odd thriller to welcome 8,011 fans back — and for Michael Conforto to redeem himself in the most peculiar, and potentially illegal, of ways.
After leaving 14 men on base in the opening series and a few more on Thursday, the New York Mets’ star right fielder ducked his elbow into what looked as though would be a strike-three with the bases loaded for a hit-by-pitch to steal a 3-2 victory in their home opener over the Miami Marlins.
“Not the way I wanted to win the ballgame,” Conforto said. “I wanted to go up there and put the ball in play and drive the ball somewhere. From my point of view, it was a slider, felt like it was coming back to me. I turned, there may have been a bit of lift in my elbow out of habit and it barely skimmed the edge of my elbow guard.
“I did see that [the umpire] rung me up [for strike-three] and that’s why you didn’t see a reaction from me right away. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I knew there was going to be some controversy.”
Down 2-1 in the ninth, Jeff McNeil delivered himself a 29th birthday present for the ages — and a reason for the Citi Field faithful to finally explode — when he took a 3-1 pitch from closer Anthony Bass and deposited it into the right-field seats for his first hit of the 2021 season.
“It’s definitely one of my biggest moments as a Met right there,” McNeil said. “Just to hear the crowd again was incredible. They were getting me fired up for that at-bat.”
The table was set for Conforto’s winning plunk when Brandon Nimmo, who went 3-for-5 followed up a Luis Guillorme infield single with an opposite-field double to put runners on second and third.
The Marlins stole a potentially memorable home debut for new superstar Francisco Lindor, intentionally walking him to load the bases for Conforto.
It just covered up the fact that the Mets’ bats were ice-cold again in important spots and missing out on early opportunities to put the Marlins out of sight early. The Mets (2-2) left nine men on-base in the first five innings that included two consecutive opportunities in the fourth and fifth innings with the bases loaded.
They are now 6-for-36 with runners in scoring position to start the 2021 season.
“We can’t be too concerned. We can’t panic,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “It’s so early. We know the ability that our guys have to drive in runs. They’re creating the situations.”
Their ineptitude ensured that Taijuan Walker would leave his gem of a debut on the wrong side of things down 2-1. The right-hander went six innings, allowing just two runs on four hits while striking out four and walking two.
“The last couple weeks I’ve been feeling really good, my arm’s been feeling really good,” Walker said. “Mechanics and everything… to see the [velocity] up again was really nice for me… To see some fives and sixes was really nice.”
He carried a no-hit bid into the fifth inning, facing the minimum before allowing a one-out, two-strike single to Brian Anderson one pitch after missing a punchout by mere inches.
“You always try not to look at no-hitters, it was still early,” Walker said. “I was just going out there, trying to pound the zone and make them put the ball in play.”
The Mets would get him a lead in the fifth inning when Dominic Smith picked up his third RBI of the season with a sacrifice fly to put the hosts up 1-0.
But Walker gave up the lead within two batters in the sixth inning; Corey Dickerson drove home John Berti with a double to tie things. With two outs in the frame, Jesus Aguilar put the Marlins (1-6) ahead with a two-strike single to left to set up what looked like another day in which the Mets would rue its missed chances.
After Nimmo led off the game with a double, the Mets left him stranded. It featured a Conforto strikeout with one out in the first, carrying over the struggles he had in the opening series against the Phillies.
The Mets left runners on first and second in the third before squandering another golden opportunity in the fourth.
Despite Jonathan Villar popping up a sacrifice bunt attempt to Neidert following a lead-off single from Dominic Smith, the Mets loaded the bases after walks to McNeil and James McCann, only for Walker to hit into a 5-4-3 double play.
After loading the bases again in the fifth with one out, Smith belted a deep drive to center that was caught at the warning track by a leaping Starling Marte to rob him of extra bases. However, it did provide the first run of the game as Francisco Lindor easily tagged up from third to score to put the Mets on the board.
After the Marlins took the lead, the Mets squandered a lead-off single by Nimmo when Conforto ended the inning with a double play following a Lindor lineout to right.
“We’re scrappy. We battle,” McNeil said. “We have to get those hits that we didn’t quite get in Philly [and earlier on Thursday]… The hits are going to fall and we’re going to drive in a lot of runs.”
“We got the win, I got the job done, and we’re on to the next game, Conforto added.