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Francisco shuts the door on the Yankees

NEW YORK -- No sooner did Mets manager Terry Collins read Frank Francisco's inflammatory comments about the Yankees on Friday than his thoughts drifted to what might happen later that night. Privately, Collins rooted for his closer to have an opportunity to back up his words, knowing it would mean a ninth-inning lead for his Mets.

The actual game could not have unfolded any other way. After eschewing an opportunity to apologize for his comments earlier in the day, the closer wobbled throughout another shaky ninth inning in Flushing. But he did not topple, closing out the Yankees in a 6-4 victory.

"They are like every other team," Francisco said. "I don't look at the uniform. I trust in what we've got here."

What the Mets had Friday was their fifth consecutive quality start -- this one from Jon Niese -- a five-run first-inning outburst against Andy Pettitte and one downright entertaining ninth.

Nursing a two-run lead, Francisco served up a booming fly-ball out to the first batter he faced, Russell Martin. He then proceeded to walk pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez and give up a single to Derek Jeter, putting the tying runs on base with one out.

But all Francisco was thinking on the mound was, in his words, "Not gonna happen." With 40,191 fans of mixed allegiances screaming around him, the closer struck out Curtis Granderson on three pitches, freezing the Yankees' most prolific power hitter on a 95-mph fastball on the outside corner. Then he induced a popup from Mark Teixeira, giving the Mets their fourth consecutive victory.

"He's a big boy," Collins said. "He can go out there and get the job done, and he did it."

"Never a doubt with him," added Niese.

Following a 53-minute rain delay, the Mets quickly began grinding down Pettitte, with two of their first four batters drawing walks. Justin Turner then singled home two runs to put the Mets on the board, before Ike Davis launched an outfielder-assisted home run over the right-field wall -- the ball glanced off Nick Swisher's glove and ricocheted into the seats.

"I thought it had a chance," Davis said. "He looked like he was going to catch it at the track."

Though Pettitte settled down, piling up five scoreless innings after escaping the first, Niese was better. The left-hander did not allow a run until Alex Rodriguez's booming solo shot to straightaway center field in the sixth. An inning later, Niese served up a leadoff homer to Andruw Jones, departing after Laynce Nix's hard-hit one-out single.

Bobby Parnell came on to preserve the three-run game at that point, before David Wright extended it in the bottom of the inning with an RBI double off Cory Wade. But Miguel Batista brought the Yankees back within two when he served up Robinson Cano's two-run shot to right-center field.

Next came Francisco, who stirred a minor Subway Series controversy when he called the Yankees "chickens" in Friday's editions of the New York Post. Though Francisco opted not to apologize for his comment, he did say that he has "a lot of respect for those guys, especially for Jeter."

Francisco himself is nothing if not confident. After recording one of his three blown saves earlier this year, the closer said that he was not worried about Citi Field's fans booing him because, by the end of the season, those boos would become cheers. And he has largely backed up his words since that time, converting 10 of his last 11 save opportunities and posting a 1.76 ERA over that span.

But the Mets feared that Francisco may have prodded the wrong giant when he insulted the Yankees prior to the Subway Series.

"I don't even know what to say about it," Teixeira said. "It really wasn't a big deal on our side. I wish we would have won the game. It doesn't matter who's out there pitching."

That may be true in a different sense for the Mets, who have now racked up five consecutive quality starts and boast the third-lowest starting pitching ERA (3.48) in the Majors. Niese called it a "friendly competition," noting that the success of each starting pitcher is inspiring the next one to perform at least as well.

Nor did the Mets need any inflammatory comments or tabloid sensationalism to justify the significance of their weekend at Citi Field. All they needed was a quick glance at the standings: despite their wild inconsistency over the past two weeks, the Mets entered Subway Series Round 2 within spitting distance of the Nationals in the National League East.

Coupled with Washington's loss to the Orioles, the Mets' victory moved them back within 2 1/2 games of first place.

Far more than chickens, that was what mattered.

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