Conforto, Mets go for series win vs. Mariners (Jul 30, 2017)

BY AP • July 29, 2017

SEATTLE -- There's the day you get to the big leagues.

And then there's the moment you realize you belong.

New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto might have experienced the latter earlier this month at his first All-Star Game.

He was standing in the lobby of his Miami hotel when he saw Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano.

"He was with his family, so I didn't want go bug him," said Conforto, a Seattle native who grew up as a Mariners fan. "But he came up to me and introduced himself. That was a pretty cool moment for me."

Another pretty cool moment came Friday night, in the opener of the three-game series at Safeco Field.

With more than 30 friends and family members in attendance, Conforto hit two solo home runs, including the tying shot in the eighth inning, as the Mets won 7-5.

Conforto, who leads New York into Sunday's series finale against Seattle, said he last set foot on the field at Safeco as a 16-year-old in the Mariners Cup, a showcase for young players.

"I'm pretty excited to play a real game here," he said. "This is the place where I fell in love with the game, coming to this stadium. I was a huge fan of these guys. To be able to come back here and play in a major league uniform ..."

Conforto showed promise as a rookie in 2015, batting .270 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs in 56 games. But he struggled last season, hitting just .220 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs in 109 games.

The 2014 first-round pick (10th overall) reported to camp this spring without any guarantees.

"He came into spring training fighting for a job," New York manager Terry Collins said. "There was no job other than fourth outfielder. I told him to make sure you're ready (when there was a chance to play). When he got an opportunity, he took the job over. He's hit and hit with power."

Conforto, 24, is now the Mets' leadoff hitter, batting .291 with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs. His run-scoring single off Seattle closer Edwin Diaz in the ninth inning Saturday pulled the Mets within a run in a 3-2 loss.

"He's a really good player, the same player I saw in college (at Oregon State)," said Mariners manager Scott Servais, who was the Los Angeles Angels' assistant general manager for scouting and development from 2012 to 2015. "He's hit at every level he's been at. ... He's a good big leaguer."

And now he's an All-Star, too.

"I think the trip to the All-Star Game showed him he belongs here," Collins said.

Conforto, who bats left-handed, hit both of his home runs Friday night off left-handers, the first against Seattle starter Ariel Miranda and the second off lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski.

"You've got to give Conforto credit," Servais said after that game. "That's the first home run Rzepczynski has given up to a left-handed (batter) all year. Conforto had a good night. The home run off 'Zep kind of turned the momentum in their favor."

Conforto won't have an easy task in the series finale Sunday, facing Mariners left-hander James Paxton (10-3, 2.84 ERA), against whom left-handed batters are hitting only .172.

Paxton, who will be making his first career appearance against the Mets, is 5-0 this month with a 1.62 ERA.

The Mets plan to counter with right-hander Seth Lugo (5-2, 4.10), who will be facing the Mariners for the first time. Lugo has pitched at least six innings in three straight starts, and the Mets have won 13 of his past 15 starts dating to Aug. 25, 2016.

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