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Rookie Conforto playing like a wily veteran

NEW YORK -- In the Mets' 3-1 win over the Phillies on Monday, Michael Conforto showed all the offensive tools that made him New York's No. 1 Draft pick in 2014.

He rifled an inside changeup into right field for a single. He smacked an outside fastball for a home run to left -- the first opposite-field shot of his career. And when Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff was done giving him pitches to hit, Conforto took a walk.

But for one of the first times in his brief Major League career, Conforto got in his own way. More important than Conforto's slight fundamental gaffe -- he slid past second in the seventh, negating what would have been his first career stolen base -- is how rare such blunders have been since his debut on July 24.

Video: [email protected]: Rupp throws out Conforto after challenge

Conforto's near-perfect night improved his slash line to .293/.381/.512 through his first 97 plate appearances, further rewarding the relative gamble New York took by promoting him just 13 months after his final college game. He looks more like a veteran than a rookie in both his at-bats and his interviews, handling both with a balance that rarely wavers and is rooted in a psychological routine he uses to enhance his focus.

"It came from college. We had a mental coach come in and teach us breathing exercises three times a week," Conforto said. "Take a breath. Slow things down. It really clicked for me."

Basically, he learned early how to belong.

"I would get really amped up for an at-bat in a big situation and feel the game was speeding up on me," he said. "That really helped me calm myself and focus on the job that I had to do. I carried it to here.

"Navy Seal snipers use the same thing to slow their heart rates. Obviously, it works. Their jobs come with much higher stakes than ours."

The Mets are about to embark on the most important September in the short history of Citi Field, and more days than not, it will be the 22-year-old Conforto starting in left field instead of Gold Glover Juan Lagares and veteran Michael Cuddyer. Neither supplanted him despite combining to hit .330 in August.

Conforto's mature approach has allowed him to reach base in 13 of his last 15 games. Three of his four homers have either tied a score or given the Mets a lead.

"There are certain guys -- we have a lot of them -- first-year guys that act like first-year guys. They know their place. They listen. They don't try to be anything they're not," manager Terry Collins said. "When you have all the veterans we have now, they appreciate that."

Joe Trezza is an associate reporter for
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