Jose Reyes’ speed killed the Astros last night (again), but the NY Post’s Brian Lewis seems fixated on portraying former Mets reliever John Franco in the best possible light.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating, but its part of the game,” said Franco (0-1), who came in with his new team leading his old team 3-1 in the seventh inning, with runners on second and third and one out. Marlon Anderson, the first batter he faced, grounded out to first, plating David Wright from third for a run.

And when Jose Reyes (above, stealing 2nd in the 7th), on a full-count pitch, grounded a dribbler down the third base line, the left-handed Franco had no play. He fielded the ball, did a pirouette, almost hit third baseman Mike Lamb in the head and stumbled to his knees as Victor Diaz lumbered home with the tying run.

“The only chance would’ve been a play at home, and of course Franco’s on the wrong side,” said Houston manager Phil Garner. “Being left-handed going that way it’d be tough for him.”

Make that impossible.

It was a fitting return to Shea for Franco.

The 44-year-old Brooklynite went 2-7 last season with a 5.28 ERA, largely undone by bloops and bleeders and bad defense. By August, the Mets let baseball’s all-time saves leader among lefties (424) go, and he landed in Houston with a one-year, $700,000 deal.

After a horrible spring with a bloated 6.23 ERA, his old change-up returned. He had a 0.00 ERA in four appearances this season ” until he suffered another bitter Shea memory last night, and saw his ERA balloon to 6.75.

Good grief. Franco allowed 46 hits and 24 walks in 46 innings pitched last year, harsh sums for someone whose job is to make sure that inherited runners don’t score (17 of whom did just that). Franco also gave up 6 homers last year, none of which fell under the category of “bloops”.

To mention Franco’s 0.00 ERA heading into last night is laughable. When Johnny B. Bad allows an inherited runner to score, someone else’s ERA takes the hit. If Franco is pulled after a batter or two and the subsequent reliever gets out of the jam (as Dan Wheeler failed to do last night), Franco’s ERA remains unaffected. So far in ’05, Franco has allowed 4 inherited runners to score in 5 appearances. Omar Minaya deserves tons of early credit for the new faces he’s brought to Flushing, Pedro, Beltran, Ishii and Mientkiewicz (another exceptional fielding performance last night) amongst them, but if the Mets GM had done nothing else other than wave goodbye to John Franco, he’d have our gratitude.