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NEW YORK -- The first time Bartolo Colon faced the Minnesota Twins on July 13, 1997, he was a 24-year-old pitching for the Cleveland Indians in a game at the Metrodome and facing a Twins lineup that featured Paul Molitor as the designated hitter.
On Friday night, the 43-year-old Colon faced the Twins while pitching for the New York Mets at Citi Field against a Minnesota team managed by Molitor.
The one common link through the decades: Colon won.
Colon continued his remarkable 40-something surge Friday, when he picked up a win by throwing seven scoreless innings as the Mets maintained their lead in the race for the National League's second wild card with a 3-0 victory over the Twins.
"You just keep looking at him and wondering when it's not going to happen anymore," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who was the manager of the then-Anaheim Angels when Colon made his major league debut for the Indians against the Angels in 1997. "And I'm not so sure anyone has an idea. I think it's going to be there for a long time."
Colon, who earned the second of his 232 career wins in his first meeting against Molitor and the Twins 19 years ago, allowed just three hits and two walks while striking out six in lowering his ERA to 3.14. Only four pitchers age 43 or older have ever produced a lower ERA -- Hall of Famers Cy Young (2.53 in 1910), Nolan Ryan (2.91 in 1991) and Phil Niekro (3.09 in 1984) as well as Jack Quinn (2.90 in 1928).
"That means a lot to me, especially being that Ryan is one of my favorite pitchers," Colon said through an interpreter. "It means a lot to me to be in the same group."
Colon's performance is doubly impressive considering the Mets re-signed him last December believing he would transition to the bullpen once right-hander Zack Wheeler completed his comeback from Tommy John surgery. But Wheeler never made it back to the majors due to continued arm woes and Colon now leads New York in wins, starts (30) and innings pitched (177 2/3).
"We thought it was a good signing, knowing that he would give us innings early," Collins said. "And here he is, right in the pennant stretch in late September, still carrying the staff."
Colon ran into trouble just once Friday. With two outs in the third, opposing pitcher Jose Berrios singled for his first career hit as well as the Twins' first hit of the game.
Brian Dozier followed with an infield single and Colon walked Joe Mauer for the second time before Jorge Polanco flied out to left.
"It's what he's been doing," Molitor said of Colon, against whom he had two hits in eight career at-bats -- more at-bats than any member of the Twins' Lineup Friday had against Colon except catcher Kurt Suzuki. "Just not enough offense. Give Bartolo a lot of credit."
Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera opened the bottom of the third with consecutive homers to provide Colon and the Mets the only runs they'd need.
Yoenis Cespedes added an RBI single in the seventh for New York, which received two hits from James Loney.
Addison Reed threw a perfect eighth and Jeurys Familia secured his 49th save despite walking two in the ninth as the Mets (78-69) ensured they'd remain at least one game ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the race for the second wild card. New York will move into a tie for the first wild card if the Cardinals beat the current top wild card, the San Francisco Giants, later Friday.
Dozier's single extended his hitting streak to 20 games for the Twins (55-93), who have lost eight of 12 and need to go 8-6 the rest of the way to avoid the franchise's first 100-loss season since 1982.
Berrios (2-7) took the loss after allowing two runs, four hits and three walks while striking out four in four innings. The 22-year-old, who was born a year after Colon made his professional debut, has thrown more than five innings just once in 12 career starts.
"Just a lot of pitches through four," Molitor said of Berrios, who threw 80 pitches, 46 for strikes. "We're looking for things that are improving. They might be subtle, but we're seeing some progress."
NOTES: Mets SS Asdrubal Cabrera left as a precaution after eight innings due to a leg cramp. He missed three weeks in August due to a strained patellar tendon in his left knee. … The Mets activated CF Juan Lagares (torn ligament in left thumb) from the 15-day disabled list. Lagares, who has been out since July 29, will serve as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner. ... Twins 2B Brian Dozier's 20-game hitting streak is the longest by a Minnesota player since OF Ben Revere's 21-game streak in 2012. … Twins manager Paul Molitor said he had no update on INF/OF Miguel Sano, who went back to Minneapolis on Thursday to have his sore back examined.
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