Conforto's clutch throw secures dramatic win

July 29th, 2021

NEW YORK -- As Michael Conforto conducted an on-field interview following the Mets’ 2-1 win over the Braves on Wednesday, standing with his back to the center-field video board, the screen behind him played his most significant contribution on loop. Those fans who stuck around Citi Field drowned out Conforto with their cheers as they watched him -- again and again and again -- unleash a 91.3-mph throw from right field to save the game.

The play went something like this: With a man on second base and one out in the ninth, pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza lined a single to right, where Conforto fielded it on a hop, took a glance toward home, then fired a strike on the fly to catcher James McCann. In one smooth motion, McCann grabbed the throw and tagged Abraham Almonte for the inning’s second out.

Moments later, Edwin Díaz nailed down the final out for the save.

“I mean, he couldn’t have thrown that ball any better,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That was the play of the game, really.”

It was the type of play that, standing in right field with a potential tying runner in scoring position, Conforto envisioned making. Since Spring Training, he and other Mets outfielders have worked on fielding balls on a hop, using lacrosse balls to reduce the margin for error. When Adrianza lined a single several paces in front of him, Conforto snapped it out of the air before it could bounce twice. Then, as Mets starter Tylor Megill put it, “Mike came up and just slung it.”

In the dugout, Megill “about screamed my lungs off, because something like that is just so big.” As far as personal highlights, Conforto said the play ranks alongside his walk-off single against the Nationals in Aug. 2019, when Pete Alonso ripped his jersey off his back to punctuate a stretch of 15 wins in 16 games. Combined with his ninth-inning, go-ahead homer in Pittsburgh earlier this month, the throw also gave Conforto two significant recent moments to brighten what has otherwise been a dreary individual season.

“It’s just another day to show up and do something to help the team win -- get on base, make a play in the outfield,” said Conforto, who’s batting .207 with six home runs in 65 games. “When things aren’t going great at the plate, I make sure I can compartmentalize and separate defense, baserunning and all that stuff to make sure that I’m still having an impact.”

And so he has, helping turn this season into the type featuring more than its share of plays and nights and moments like this. Megill’s strong pitching effort highlighted Wednesday’s early proceedings, until Austin Riley tied the game with a solo homer in the sixth. An inning later, Brandon Drury hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead homer to improve to 6-for-6 since returning from the Minors earlier this week. All three of Drury’s career pinch-hit homers have come this year.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” Drury said afterward.

So imagine how Conforto feels. Now one of the most experienced veterans in the Mets’ clubhouse, Conforto is playing out what could be his final few months as a Met. If and when he hits free agency this winter, his numbers -- both offensive and defensive -- will be scrutinized many times over, and he knows it. Even Conforto’s short-term future is somewhat in doubt, as the Mets search for potential upgrades who could perhaps cut into his playing time against left-handed pitchers.

But those in the clubhouse understand Conforto’s continued importance to this team. And that’s what concerns him most at this moment, as his longtime employer -- now four games up in the division, and five ahead of the Braves -- looks to create space between it and the rest of the NL East. Conforto’s throw helped ensure that the Mets can drop no more than a game to the Braves this week, while furthering their narrative as a team that appears to be more than the sum of its parts.

“I feel like a broken record,” Conforto said, “but it’s been a really, really fun team to be a part of.”