Franco was as proud and grateful as he could be. He had hit the home run that provided the runs critical to the Mets' extraordinary 7-2 victory over the Padres. He beamed and thanked God for the opportunity. And at the same time, he knew how people -- even his teammates and former teammates -- would see it. They would look at it with the numbers of his birth certificate in the foreground. They would see his two-run, pinch-hit home run primarily, perhaps exclusively, through the prism of time.
And that unsettled him.
"They don't see my ability," Franco said. "They see my age."
Age is a prominent component of all this of course. Others have hit two-run, pinch-hit home runs that have turned games or produced grander, more dramatic late-in-the-game achievements. But nary a soul in this game ever has hit one so late in life. Franco was 47 years, 240 days old when he took Scott Linebrink, 29 years, 259 days, over the right-field fence in the eighth inning to change a 2-1 Mets deficit into a 3-2 Mets lead.
And 47 years and any number of days make him a baseball Methuselah. Not since 1930 -- or shortly before Franco's birth, someone suggested -- had anyone with a comparable number of rings in his trunk done something like this. Then, on June 27 that year, Jack Quinn, a pitcher with the Philadelphia A's, hit one against the St. Louis Browns. And Quinn was a mere child of 46 years, 357 days.
"Julio is old. ... old and decrepit," said Tom Glavine, Franco's teammate with two teams. "But he can hit. And that's why he's here."
Franco is good in the clubhouse and on the busses and in the dugout. But he's productive in the batter's box. That's why the Mets imported him and gave him the security of a two-year contract. Go on, say it: social security.
The 171st home run of his career and fourth pinch-hit homer in his extended resume was a focal point of the six-run rally that secured the Mets' first victory in three games and their fourth in four road games. It hardly was the lone point of distinction, though.
Five innings earlier, Kaz Matsui had provided the Mets' first run -- it was their only run until Franco struck -- and made some history, too. He had hit a home run in his first at-bat of the season, an inside-the-park home run at that.
Like Franco's tale, this too was an old story, filled with been there, done that. The home run off Padres starter Jake Peavy marked the third time in Matsui's only three years in the big leagues that the former Japanese All-Star had hit a round-tripper in his first at-bat of the season.
Big Starts For Matsui
|Kaz Matsui, eighth in the Mets' batting order, hit a home run leading off the third inning Thursday night in his first at-bat this season. It is the third successive season in which he has hit a home run in his first at-bat. He is the first to do so since Ken Griffey Jr. from 1997-99.|
|April 6, 2004||Braves||Russ Ortiz||First||None||0-0|
|April 4, 2005||Reds||Paul Wilson||First||One||3-2|
|April 20, 2006||Padres||Jake Peavy||Third||None||2-1|
"I can't believe it myself," Matsui said through his interpreter.
Matsui had been assigned to the disabled list since the beginning of the season because of a sprained right knee suffered during Spring Training. Activated because second baseman Anderson Hernandez has been put on the DL, Matsui marked his season debut as he had marked his debuts in each of the last two seasons -- with a first at-bat home run. Ken Griffey Jr., then with the Mariners, last did it, hitting home runs in his first at-bats of the 1997, 1998 and 1999 seasons.
Matsui's fly ball to right, leading off the third inning, glanced off the glove of right fielder Brian Giles as he approached the wall. The play became Matsui's first inside-the-park home run and the first by a Met since June 11 last season, when Marlon Anderson hit one against the Angels.
All that, and it wasn't Matsui's most significant contribution to the about face the Mets executed. Indeed, it was Matsui's turn of the double play that ended the seventh that initiated the U-turn.
The Mets needed a double play after Pedro Feliciano retired pinch-hitter Geoff Blum with the bases loaded for the first out. Then pinch-hitter Eric Young, still quick, hit a ground ball that David Wright handled with a dive to his left. After a rushed relay to Matsui, his quick exchange and quick relay to first base produced two outs and energized the Mets dugout.
"It was really rockin' then," manager Willie Randolph said.
"It had been dead quiet in there until that play," starting pitcher Steve Trachsel said.
Blum had pinch-hit for starting pitcher Jake Peavy, who had allowed three hits besides Matsui's home run. So the Mets, who had scored three runs in the previous 29 innings, were in the bullpen.
Former Padre Xavier Nady doubled of Linebrink, Peavy's successor. Then Franco crushed a 93 mph fastball. Before the inning was over, Carlos Delgado had hit a two-run home run, Endy Chavez has squeezed in a run and the Mets had achieved their most productive inning of the season.
"So many good things happened," Cliff Floyd said. "It was a cool game."
Floyd and Carlos Beltran returned to active duty, though Beltran left after five innings because of soreness in his right hamstring. An MRI awaits him Friday. Matsui asserted himself, Wright made a fine stop on the double play one day after his defense cost the Mets. Jose Valentin got his first hit. And Jorge Julio was filthy.
"Of everything I saw tonight," Floyd said, "Julio was the best."
"Both," Floyd said. "The old one and the new one -- Julio and Julio."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.