Michael Conforto’s nightmare season seemed as though it had finally got to him in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s opening game of a doubleheader against the Miami Marlins.
The Mets were trailing 5-1, on the brink of seeing a rare two-game August win streak evaporate, and he had just popped out to first baseman Jesus Aguilar in foul territory with runners on first and second with one out.
Conforto returned to the dugout, slammed his bat twice in the rack before firing his helmet to the ground in disgust — a rare demonstrative display from a veteran that usually keeps it even-keeled despite trudging through the worst offensive season of his career.
Manager Luis Rojas and bench coach Dave Jauss immediately greeted him with encouragement, imploring that he would “get another big” hit — and he only had to wait an inning before his Tuesday and the Mets’ fortunes turned around.
Conforto slapped the walk-off game-winning single to put the bow on the Mets’ largest ninth-inning comeback in a decade before he slugged a two-run home run in the second game of the doubleheader, fueling a 3-1 victory — the team’s fourth-consecutive win.
It salvaged the end to a brutal August that saw the Mets begin the month in first place in the National League East before sinking down to third place, 8.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves behind a brutal 2-11 13-game stretch against the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Now just 5.5 games back of the Braves with a month remaining in the season, the Mets are hinting that there might be some magic left in Queens this season with Conforto indicating that he could finally breakthrough.
Over his first 69 games of the season from April 5 to July 31, Conforto was slashing .198/.322/.324 (.646 OPS) with six home runs and 25 RBI — a worst-case scenario for a star outfielder that was poised to ask for a $200 million-plus contract in free agency this winter.
The prospect of that massive payday is gone, but Conforto’s August was much more like the lefty Mets fans were familiar with from 2015-2020. Over his last 28 games, Conforto slashed .268/.388/.488 (.876 OPS) with four home runs and 11 RBI; numbers much more familiar to that of his .259/.358/.484 (.843 OPS) slash line over the first six years of his career.
“The quality at-bats were a lot more in August,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “We saw him laying off a lot more pitches and taking better swings… He’s really close to being that guy. If he shows up in September like he did today for us, I think that’s going to improve our offense.”
As a middle-of-the-order bat to complement Pete Alonso, Javier Baez, and Francisco Lindor, the August version of Conforto is needed, and then some, to catapult the Mets back toward the status of legitimate postseason contenders with 31 games remaining.
“I feel like I’m less focused on a sustained stretch of being hot and more on being ready to hit every single pitch,” Conforto said. “That seems to allow my natural ability to come out … and just simplify everything. At this point, I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team win. That’s what we need right now.”
A Conforto and Mets team that could come anywhere near meeting their preseason potential certainly has the opportunity to do so. After their series finale with the Marlins on Thursday, the Mets play five against the lowly Nationals and three more against Miami before meeting the crosstown-rival Yankees from Sept. 10-12.
“We have to keep winning. Winning is all we want,” Conforto said. “Winning is all the fans want. We’re all pulling in the same direction here… In short, I think winning cures everything.”