On pace for 8 blown saves this year (but perhaps as many as 40 conversions, not counting anyone willing to accept Christ as their personal savior), Mets reliever Braden Looper is valuable trade bait, writes Newsday’s David Lennon.

Without many relief options out there, Looper could be at the top of a few teams’ wish lists, whether it’s in a setup or closer’s role. The Red Sox are badly in need of bullpen help after losing Keith Foulke to arthroscopic knee surgery last week.

Mets special assistant Sandy Johnson is in Baltimore this weekend scouting the Red Sox, but team officials maintain they will keep Looper, believing they are in contention for at least the wild card. Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar is on the block, but he appears to be headed to the Astros in a deal for reliever Chad Qualls.

Looper is in the final season of a two-year, $6.25-million contract that includes an option for 2006. The Mets don’t have any attractive in-house options to replace Looper next season, but if the right offer comes along, trading him might be difficult to resist.

“That’s something I can’t control,” Looper said. “Obviously, I signed my contract here and I want to be here. I felt like I’ve done my job pretty well. I’m not saying I’ve been perfect by any means. There’s not anybody out there that’s perfect. Hopefully, I’ll be here for another year or two. I want to stay. We’ll see what happens.”

The Mets figured to be without Looper last night because the 38-pitch outing Friday was his fourth appearance in five days. Roberto Hernandez, with 320 career saves, is the club’s likely backup closer, though manager Willie Randolph didn’t rule out using Danny Graves, either.

Hernandez is the likely replacement if the Mets rapidly fall out of contention and Looper is dealt.

(the expression “take a picture, it’ll last longer” really doesn’t help Jonny if he doesn’t have a camera on hand)

Tampa Bay rookie Jonny Gomes took Detroit’s Troy Percival to, well, outer space last night, the former’s walkoff 2-run HR in the bottom of the 9th giving the Devil Rays a 5-4 victory. The St. Petersburg Times’ Marc Topkin suggests that Gomes should be ready to duck this afternoon.

Gomes clearly enjoyed the moment, walking down the first-base line as he watched the ball soar over the fence, waving his teammates out of the dugout to meet him at home plate then flipping off his helmet halfway home so he could absorb the full head-banging celebration.

“I loved it,” Gomes said. “I wanted everyone coming out. It was exciting. I was ready.”

Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who tossed his own bat after an earlier homer that hit the C-ring catwalk, didn’t appear to appreciate Gomes’ actions, gesturing and jabbering at him before leaving the field. He declined, however, to talk to reporters after the game.

Detroit manager Alan Trammell said, “If you ask my opinion, I would always like to see guys get around the bases.”

Gomes said he didn’t mean anything by his actions, though it wouldn’t be surprising if the Tigers reply today by throwing at him.

“I ain’t looking to show anyone up. That’s the bottom line,” Gomes said. “I was just overcome with emotion. I mean Troy Percival, he’s a legend in this game. Pudge behind the plate, he’s a legend. I ain’t looking to show anyone up. They’re a great team. I was just overcome with emotion. That was my first big-league walkoff.”