In Barajas, Mets find key to leaving Citi

NEW YORK -- Rod Barajas remained unemployed as spring training began. And when the 34-year-old catcher finally signed with the New York Mets on Feb. 22, he merited only a minor league deal.

Barajas' arrival, hardly heralded, turned Omir Santos from a No. 1 catcher in the majors into prospect Josh Thole's understudy at Triple-A Buffalo. It also gave the Mets their first long-ball threat behind the plate since Mike Piazza, even if Barajas did hit a modest .226 last season while slugging 19 homers with the Toronto Blue Jays.

On Friday night, at long last, the Mets finally had a power explosion, with Jeff Francoeur and Barajas playing the key roles. Both players had two-homer games as the Mets beat the Washington Nationals 8-2.

"We needed that tonight," Francoeur said.

The Mets, who had wanted free-agent catcher Bengie Molina this winter, only to be spurned when he re-signed with the San Francisco Giants, reached four homers for the first time since moving into Citi Field -- thanks, of course, to the afterthought Barajas.

The last time the Mets slugged four homers in a game: Sept. 17, 2008, at Washington, when Carlos Beltran (twice), Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado went deep.

The last time a pair of Mets had two homers apiece: June 9, 2006, against the Arizona Diamondbacks, courtesy of Beltran and Delgado.

Barajas became the first Mets catcher with a two-homer game at home since Piazza eight years ago. Barajas slugged homers to left field in consecutive at-bats, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead and making Mike Pelfrey (six innings, four hits, two runs, four strikeouts, four walks) a winner in his first 2010 start.

After Barajas' second homer, he approached Francoeur in the dugout and asked, "What is this, Cincinnati?" -- referring to the Reds' homer-friendly Great American Ball Park.

"From what I heard, this is something you didn't see at all last year," Barajas said. "It's playing like a true ballpark right now. I have no idea why. But I'm happy that it is right now, or else I might have two fly outs."

The Mets, as has been well-documented, hit only 95 homers overall last season, while playing their inaugural season at Citi Field. The long-ball total was by far the fewest in the majors, with the San Francisco Giants ranking 29th with 122.

Before Friday's outburst, the seven most recent three-homer-plus games at Citi Field had been produced by the visiting team.

An inning after Barajas' second blast, the one person most tormented by the ballpark's spacious dimensions last season got a reminder of just how cruel Citi Field can be. Upon launching a shot to left field off Rutgers product Jason Bergmann in the seventh inning, David Wright went into a home run trot.

The problem?

The wind knocked down the towering shot, which hit off the top of the 16-foot wall in left field and stayed in play. Wright, who hit nine balls in play at Citi Field last season that would have been homers at Shea Stadium, nonetheless comfortably reached second. He scored on Fernando Tatis' single for a 4-2 lead. Francoeur followed with a two-run homer, ending the game's suspense.

"I think I just hit it a little too high. I hit it good. I'm glad that Jeff was able to go deep right after that and really show me up," Wright dryly said.

Said Pelfrey: "I thought David's ball hit the third deck, and it ended up hitting off the wall. He obviously did, too. He crushed that ball."

Wright, who has continuously suggested the Mets are not a homer-oriented team, conceded power displays like Friday night's outburst are needed.

"I won't say it's important or it's necessary, but it's a good momentum shift," Wright said. "When you get a home run, it's fun to cheer the guy on. It's fun to do the handshakes in the dugout. It changes the momentum. It gets the crowd into it.

"But we don't necessarily need the home run to be successful. I think we have a ballclub that's more built around speed and situational hitting. But you're not going to lie. When you hit a home run it's a big momentum boost for the whole team."

As for Barajas -- who chose the Mets' minor league offer over a deal with the Texas Rangers with pitchers and catchers already in camp -- he had no explanation for how he could have been out of a job so late in the offseason.

"It was a tough offseason," he said. "I felt like every time I got an opportunity to go out there and be a starting catcher, I've always performed. So still looking for a job when spring training started, it was definitely tough. I have no idea what happened."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.