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METS' OFFSEASON PLAN GETS THROWN FOR A LOOPER

There are reasons why the New York Mets are the New York Mets, why life on their side of the Triborough Bridge is different from the Bronx, why no amount of money is guaranteed to erase the sins of the past.

Monday, on a sun-splashed afternoon by the banks of the Ohio River, the reason was Braden Looper, who in 14 pitches destroyed what should have been a glorious opening day victory for the Mets.

The Mets were three outs away from validation when Looper served up back-to-back home runs. The first was a tying two-run blast by Adam Dunn; the second was Joe Randa's rainbow into the left-field seats that handed the Mets a 7-6 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. It also gave their rookie manager a taste of what it feels like not to have Mariano Rivera as your closer.

"I'm not with the Yankees anymore," Randolph said. "That's the past, man. It doesn't feel too good. There's not many Mariano Riveras around. But Braden's a fine reliever, and he's going to be my No. 1 guy."

Randolph doesn't have much choice. The Mets spent $53 million to get Pedro Martinez, and Monday he had more strikeouts (12) than any other Mets pitcher in a season opener. The Wilpons dished out another $119 million for Carlos Beltran, and he keyed the Mets' 14-hit attack with a 3-for-5 performance, three RBIs and a home run.

For eight innings, the new Mets were good. But at the end of the day, the 6-4 lead was in the hands of Looper, a man with 75 career saves but 26 blown chances.

Austin Kearns began the ninth-inning rally with a single to right. The next batter, Dunn, had hit a three-run home run off Martinez in the first. Looper left a sinkier up and Dunn hit another one, giving him five RBIs and tying the score.

Randa then homered on a full count, giving Martinez a no-decision despite his spectacular afternoon and making Randolph a loser in his debut.

"It's too early to be frustrating," Martinez said. "I'm pretty sure the bullpen is going to pitch better than it did today. It was one bad inning."

Martinez was dominant, not allowing a hit after Dunn's home run in the first. He struck out the side three times, and was in position to win when the Mets took a 6-3 lead in the seventh on Beltran's RBI single and Floyd's two-run home run.