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NYM@TOR: Baxter falls a homer short of the cycle

TORONTO -- Boos rained down on Frank Francisco in the ninth inning Sunday, leftovers from Francisco's tenure in Toronto. After closing out a 6-5 victory for the Mets, who avoided a sweep against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, Francisco was asked why so many of the 41,867 fans in attendance were jeering him.

"Because they loved me," Francisco quipped. "And I left."

If nothing else, the closer's return to Toronto was eventful. Clinging to both his job security and a one-run lead in the ninth, Francisco put the first two batters he faced on base, prompting a mound visit from catcher Rob Johnson. The message was simple: Put a little fire on your fastball, Frank, and throw it to the outer half of the plate.

Francisco responded with pitches that reached as high as 98 mph, striking out the final three batters in succession to leave the tying run on second base.

"I was like, 'Whoa,'" Johnson said. "Where'd that come from?"

It came from a pitcher who had allowed at least one run in three of his previous four outings, blowing one save, being pulled from another save situation and thrusting his own job security in doubt. Though manager Terry Collins had affirmed his status as closer to some extent last week, Francisco still seemed a blown save or two away from losing his grip.

Not anymore.

"If you're ever going to show your true colors, now's the time," Collins said. "Against a club that's red-hot, they're swinging great, the middle of their lineup is very, very dangerous ... the job he did was really special."

Francisco's efforts preserved Dillon Gee's third victory, after the right-hander allowed 11 runs over 11 innings in his previous two starts. Though Gee lamented that he had little control of his pitches throughout Sunday's outing, he managed to limit the Jays to Jose Bautista's solo homer in the third inning and a pair of one-run singles.

Offense came more plentifully for the Mets, who plated two runs on David Wright's double in the first off Henderson Alvarez, then a third on Kirk Nieuwenhuis' double that center fielder Colby Rasmus initially appeared to catch. Mike Baxter also starred for the Mets on offense, tripling home a run in the second inning and finishing a homer short of the cycle.

Wright, who was still hoarse and achy after missing Saturday's game due to illness, singled in the fifth inning and walked in the seventh, raising his MLB-leading batting average to .412 and on-base percentage to .512. His double moved him past Jose Reyes for second place on the franchise's all-time hits list.

But it all seemed tenuous in the eighth inning, when Bobby Parnell gave back two runs, drawing Toronto within one and snapping his personal streak of 10 consecutive scoreless outings. The Mets had not scored since the fifth. Their four-run lead had shrunk to one. And so the Rogers Centre crowd erupted as soon as Francisco was introduced, growing only louder when leadoff batter Yunel Escobar drew a walk.

"Your heart's going because the game's on the line," Baxter said. "That's a really, really good offensive team."

Facing the same defensive over-shift that the Mets employed against him all weekend, Bautista then grounded a single through the open hole on the right side of the infield, putting the tying run in scoring position with no outs. That brought Johnson out to the mound, delivering the message that Francisco took to heart. The closer used 14 pitches to whiff Edwin Encarnacion, J.P. Arencibia and Eric Thames in succession, fanning Thames on a letter-high fastball to end the game.

"Those guys at the back end of their bullpen make their money for a reason," Arencibia said, referring in particular to Francisco.

It could have been a messy trip to Canada for the Mets, who entered the day coming off four losses in their last five games -- including a particularly vexing Saturday defeat. The Mets placed one of their pitchers, Miguel Batista, on the disabled list Sunday morning, and were allowing Wright to play through an illness that sapped him of his energy. There was frustration aplenty. There was talk of demoting Ike Davis to the Minors. There was some skepticism about countering Alvarez, one of the American League's brightest young pitchers, with the struggling Gee.

But Gee, Wright and Baxter quickly went set about altering the mood in Sunday's early innings, before Francisco delivered the late contribution that stood out most.

"I don't think I changed anything," Francisco said. "I was just trying to hit my spots, because I believe if you hit your spots, good things are going to happen."

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