Another Franco Flop

NEW YORK – John Franco said he was speechless, but he really wasn't. Baffled, frustrated or stunned might have been better words to use. <P> Whatever the verbiage, Franco once again failed in a big situation for the Mets, allowing an two-run homer to Tony Batista in the eighth inning Thursday as the Expos bounded past New York, 4-1.

Suddenly, the feel-good story that Franco worked so tirelessly for two years ago – countless hours in the Shea Stadium weight room during the dead of winter, fighting all odds to come back from injury at the age of 43 – is taking on a bitter flavor.

"I haven't held up my end of the bargain," Franco said. "I'm speechless right now. I don't know what to say."

With the Mets carrying just six relievers after optioning Dan Wheeler to Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday, Mets manager Art Howe has been left with little choice but to ask his veteran relievers to try and secure three outs or more.

It backfired Wednesday night as Mike Stanton allowed a three-run homer to Jose Vidro, and it did so again when Franco served up a two-run blast to Batista; this after getting the first two outs of the inning in short order.

"I guess that's baseball," Howe said. "You think you're out of the woods, and then, 'Bam.'"

Speaking contritely in front of his locker, Franco wasn't quite so eager to shrug the performance off. The loss was Franco's seventh of the season, an ugly amount of decisions for a middle reliever, and his ERA bloated to a team-worst 5.50.

"I haven't been doing my job," Franco said. "It's frustrating. It's frustrating as hell to me. Art has given me some opportunities in close games and I haven't gotten it done."

One of the most striking moments of Franco's career as a Met came over one year ago, when he trotted in from the bullpen on May 30, 2003 as a returning hero. Having defied all odds against his year-plus recovery from career-threatening Tommy John surgery, Franco entered a game against the Atlanta Braves to a chilling standing ovation.

That memory must seem so long ago for Franco, who hasn't heard a single cheer at Shea Stadium in weeks. Even the mere mention of his name draws a resentful chorus of boos from the grandstands in Flushing, but his actions Thursday drew even more negative reaction.

Franco freely admits that this is the most frustrating slump of his 20-year Major League career, but at least he has been at this long enough to know that it's not personal – or, at least it wasn't up until recently.

"When you don't do your job, you deserve to get booed," Franco said. "I've said that since day one. These people pay to see good baseball."

They haven't gotten it on this homestand, as the loss added one more chapter to what has been a failing return to Shea.

New York came back after the All-Star Break holding a 44-43 record, trailing the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies by just two games. However, the Mets flopped, splitting a four-game series with the Phillies and being swept in a two-game set by Florida before splitting a pair with the cellar-dwelling Expos.

Mets Notes

David Wright had an eventful afternoon, collecting his first Major League single, double, run scored and error.

The error came first, as Wright – who admitted that he was still "antsy" as he played in his second Major League game in less than 24 hours – charged a Jose Vidro grounder in the first inning and booted it. Tom Glavine bailed out Wright by inducing the next hitter, Batista, to sky to center, wiping the slate clean.

After grounding to third his first time up, Wright notched his first big league hit in the fifth, smashing a Zach Day sinker for a double inside the left-field line. In usual baseball custom, the Mets secured the baseball for Wright, who plans to send it home to Norfolk, Va. to assume its rightful spot on his fireplace mantel.

"I don't even remember running to second [base]," Wright said. "It was almost like I hit it and ended up on second, like gliding around the bases."

Wright scored later that inning on Jose Reyes' run-scoring groundout, then added a single to right in the ninth off of Montreal's Chad Cordero. Still, with his Major League average now sitting at .250, Wright said he would have traded the hits for a victory.

"I enjoyed the day a lot more yesterday when we got the 'W'," Wright said. "I'd much rather take that 0-for-4 than get these two hits and lose."

Bryan Hoch is the managing editor of New York Mets Inside Pitch Magazine.

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