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Blanco's walk-off extends Mets' home streak

Blanco's walk-off extends Mets' home streak

NEW YORK -- The ball ascended, just as it did the night before, only Henry Blanco wasn't as used to this sort of thing. Unlike Rod Barajas, who settled into a nice trot after his walk-off homer Friday, Blanco raced around first base.

The ball hung in the air and Giants left fielder Mark DeRosa tensed, looking as if he might attempt a leaping grab. Impossible. Clearing the smallest section of Citi Field, the ball landed just over the wall to give the Mets their second walk-off win in two games, this one a 5-4 decision in 11 innings Saturday. And as Blanco chugged around second base, umpire Rob Drake relayed the news.

"He said, 'Relax,'" Blanco laughed. "'It's a home run.'"

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Less than 24 hours after Barajas hit the first walk-off homer in Citi Field history, Blanco -- in the lineup only because Barajas injured his finger earlier in Friday's game -- hit the second. It took the Mets 98 games to record one walk-off at their new home, then merely 19 hours to hit another.

Not since Robin Ventura and Mike Piazza -- remember them? -- in July 2001 had the Mets won two successive games in their final at-bat. They also extended their home winning streak to nine games.

"Oh man, that was exciting to see Henry come up and hit the ball out of the park," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "We hadn't swung the bat well those last few innings, and I was wondering how we were going to get a run."

It happened like this: Leading off the 11th against former Mets goat Guillermo Mota, Blanco smacked a fastball high in the air, careening toward the foul pole.

DeRosa staggered under it, fighting the strong winds that had been swirling around Citi Field since the middle innings. But Blanco provided just enough pop for the 59th homer of his 13-year career.

He also bailed out Pedro Feliciano, who coughed up the lead on Aubrey Huff's eighth-inning single after Johan Santana left the game. Huff nearly won it on a deep fly to right in the ninth, but the wind knocked that shot down into Jeff Francoeur's glove.

Unlike Blanco, Huff hit it to the wrong part of the park.

"I didn't barrel it as much as some of them, but I definitely hit that ball out 99 percent of the time," Huff said. "I'm dumbfounded he caught that ball at the wall. This place makes our park look like a bandbox. I kind of feel bad for the guys who have to hit here every day. Goodness gracious."

Though the Mets had little trouble reaching base off Giants starter Todd Wellemeyer, walking five times, they broke through only when Angel Pagan hit a two-run triple in the second. And Santana, though much-improved from his 10-run outing in Philadelphia, was still not in vintage form, appearing to tire at the end of the game.

For the second straight day, Manuel opted to go with his bullpen. And for the second straight day, the bullpen blew the lead.

"I feel like I had enough [to finish the inning]," said Santana, who left after 101 pitches with two outs in the eighth. "But he felt differently. He's the boss and he took me out there."

Luckily for Santana, Francisco Rodriguez and Hisanori Takahashi were there to hold the Giants. And Blanco had a bat.

Starting at catcher only because Barajas -- the team's hottest hitter -- bruised his left index finger on a fluke play in Friday's game, Blanco singled in the fourth and eighth innings to provide more offense than the Mets could have anticipated. But they were under no illusions. Blanco is a career .228 hitter, employed solely for his defensive and game-calling abilities. Manuel was understandably tempted to replace him with Barajas in the 11th.

Fearing that his starting catcher might aggravate his finger, however, Manuel stuck with Blanco. And Blanco stuck one over the wall, shining further light on a catching situation that, in less than three months, has transformed from a trouble spot to an obvious strength.

"It's a tremendous asset for us," Manuel said. "Those guys have done a tremendous job with the pitching staff. They've obviously gotten some big hits."

Including Friday night's walk-off, Barajas has hit five home runs that have either tied games or given the Mets the lead. Blanco now has one.

"I've got some tips for him," Blanco cracked.

More importantly for the Mets, he has meshed with the pitching staff, playing a particularly significant role in Mike Pelfrey's development.

Such details are easily lost for a team that has now won nine consecutive games at Citi Field, two of them via walk-offs. The struggles of Philadelphia and Cincinnati seem a long time ago. Here at Citi Field, the Mets quite simply cannot seem to lose.

"We love the blowouts," said Barajas, who expects to be back in the lineup Sunday. "But a walk-off here, there's nothing like it."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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