Yoenis Cespedes gets the attention, as he should. But the New York Mets‘ 12-run third inning got going Friday night when Michael Conforto doubled home the game’s first run.

Cespedes’ recent power surge has made the Mets look unbeatable. But the Mets’ surge really began when manager Terry Collins put a 23-year-old kid into the third spot in the batting order.

The Mets are baseball’s hottest team and maybe baseball’s best show. And as much as this is a team built around its young and ridiculously talented starting rotation, the Mets look like a championship contender again because of a lineup built around the unassuming kid from the Pacific Northwest and the flashy star from Cuba.

They each had two hits in the 12-run inning that was the biggest in the Mets’ 55-year franchise history and fueled a 13-1 rout of the San Francisco Giants to give the Mets their seventh straight win. True to form, Conforto had a pair of line drives that drove in runs. True to form, Cespedes hit the rocket of a grand slam that you’ll see on the highlights.

Cespedes hits the ball hard, and his last two home runs have been dramatic lasers over the left-field fence. But as Mark Simon of ESPN.com tweeted Thursday, it’s another Met who tops the list of the hardest hitters in the major leagues:

Simon didn’t break down those numbers by date, but the other numbers show Conforto is hitting .380 in the 13 games since Collins moved him to the middle of the lineup, with eight doubles, three home runs and 12 RBI.

The Mets, who were 3-5 and scoring 2.5 runs a game before the move, are 11-2 and scoring more than six runs a game since.

Conforto isn’t solely responsible, any more than Cespedes was solely responsible for fueling the second-half charge that gave the Mets a division title and eventually a National League pennant last year.

Or any more than Cespedes has been the key to the Mets’ current seven-game winning streak. Neil Walker has nine home runs this month, Asdrubal Cabrera has fit in well as the new shortstop, and the Mets still have that pitching.

Besides, Cespedes only started two of the seven games, showing up for just one plate appearance in the other five because of a deep bruise on his right leg. That one appearance, of course, was the three-run, game-tying, pinch-hit home run Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds. It was a home run that reached legendary status when it came out the Mets had to go find Cespedes in the training room, where he was getting treatment.

Cespedes has homered six times in his last nine games—a stretch that began the day Collins put Conforto in the third spot and pushed Cespedes from third to cleanup. He has at least one extra-base hit in each of those nine games, which is another Mets franchise record.

It’s pretty much what the Mets have seen from Cespedes ever since the trade that brought him from the Detroit Tigers last July 31. Michael Fulmer, the 23-year-old right-hander who was a key piece in that deal, debuted with a strong effort for the Tigers Friday night in Minnesota. But as Gary Cohen said Friday on SNY, the Mets will have no regrets even if Fulmer becomes a star.

Cespedes already is one. He already helped deliver one pennant, the Mets’ first in 14 years, and he energized this team with his January decision to re-sign.

The three-year, $75 million contract includes an opt-out that would turn it into a one-year, $27.5 million deal, but at this point the Mets would say that big price is worth it, too.

Besides, they’re only paying Conforto $517,246 this year.

The Cespedes signing was supposed to turn Conforto into a platoon player, because the Mets’ original plan was to play Cespedes in left field with Juan Lagares in center and Conforto on the bench against left-handers. That’s still the official plan, but the Mets have somehow faced only two lefties this season, and Conforto played in one of those games because Cespedes couldn’t.

The reality is that Conforto needs to be an every-day player, one way or the other. The reality is the Mets need him, just as they need Cespedes.

They make a pretty good pair in the middle of the lineup, as different as they are. And they make the Mets a team that could easily repeat or outdo what it accomplished last year.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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