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Francisco brings heat in 9th to close out Mets win

New York Mets catcher Rob Johnson, left, embraces

New York Mets catcher Rob Johnson, left, embraces closer Frank Francisco after striking out Toronto Blue Jays' Eric Thames to secure a 6-5 win during the ninth inning in Toronto. (May 20, 2012) Credit: AP

TORONTO - TORONTO -- The 41,867 fans who packed Rogers Centre for Sunday's open-roof matinee tried to make Frank Francisco as uncomfortable as possible in his homecoming debut. Then it was Francisco's turn to make the Mets squirm.

Changing boos to cheers is not something a visiting closer ever wants to do, yet Francisco became the most popular man on Blue Jay Way in short order during the ninth inning. All it took was a leadoff walk to Yunel Escobar, followed immediately by Jose Bautista's shift-beater special, a ground-ball single through the empty right side of the infield.

Faced with almost certain doom, what did Francisco do? He turned the dial up to 98 mph and struck out the next three hitters, with Eric Thames flailing at a shoulder-high fastball to put the exclamation point on the Mets' 6-5 victory over the Blue Jays.

Afterward, with the sweep averted and his 10th save (in 12 chances) secure, Francisco squeezed his large frame into a clubhouse folding chair and tried to hide the glee behind a crooked half-smile.

Was this a rewarding finish, Frank? "What do you think?" he replied.

And so it went. When a reporter asked if Francisco was happy to, um, stick it to his former team -- but using more R-rated language for the question -- the closer quipped, "Hey, we're on camera." How about the boos? Why did the fans give him such a hard time?

"Because they love me," Francisco said. "And I left."

Funny stuff, but with a 7.56 ERA, Francisco is hardly adored among the Mets' own fan base, which had to be cringing that the game even wound up this close. The Mets built leads of 4-0 and 6-2 that were mostly protected by Dillon Gee, whose 6 2/3 innings represented his longest outing in nearly a month. David Wright rebounded from his sick day with a two-run double in his first at-bat and Mike Baxter had a career-best three hits, falling only a home run shy of the cycle, to go with two runs scored and an RBI.

Evidently, Baxter made a big impression on the Rogers Centre rowdies, who frequently serenaded him with expletive-laden chants from the leftfield seats. Only Francisco was hounded at higher volume level, and the name recognition had to make him feel special, right? "That's one way to look at it," Baxter said.

Gee badly wanted to finish the seventh inning, but Collins opted for Bobby Parnell for the third out. Though that looked like a wise choice, the Blue Jays ripped him for three hits and two runs in the eighth before Parnell finished his day by striking out Yan Gomes with a 101-mph fastball. With the tying run at first base, Tim Byrdak retired Kelly Johnson on a soft pop to rightfield, and that set the stage for Francisco in the ninth.

As soon as Francisco's name was announced, the dome erupted with boos, which he later claimed not to hear. "I'm deaf on the mound," the closer said. Catcher Rob Johnson also came out for a chat to remind Francisco about the importance of locating his fastball. Johnson knew what was coming, he just didn't expect pitches to be zipping in at 98 mph.

"I was like, man, where did that come from?" Johnson said.

Collins, who admitted to getting fidgety in the dugout, wasn't as concerned about the origin of Francisco's amped-up fastball. The manager just wants it to remain part of his closer's arsenal, and Collins believes the homecoming triumph might be a turning point.

"If ever he was going to show his true colors, now's the time," Collins recalled thinking as Francisco stood on the mound. "He hit 98 a few times, so we know it's still in there. I think he absolutely reached back for a little more."

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