Shef Swats No. 500

NEW YORK – Gary Sheffield hit his 500th home run Friday night to became the 25th player in major league history to reach the milestone, belting a drive to left off Milwaukee's Mitch Stetter leading off the seventh inning.

The nine-time All-Star hit a full-count pitch an estimated 385 feet for his first hit and homer of the season for the New York Mets after being cut by the Detroit Tigers the last week of spring training.

Sheffield pumped both arms in the air as he approached first and rounded the bases as cameras flashed all over Citi Field. He touched home plate and pointed to the sky with both arms after the pinch-hit shot then hugged on-deck batter Jose Reyes.

He then received congratulatory hugs and high-fives from his new teammates, who came out of the dugout as fans gave Sheffield an ovation.

The homer, the second as a pinch-hitter, tied the score at 4-all. It was caught by Chris Matcovich, a 22-year-old Mets fan from Suffern, N.Y., wearing a Keith Hernandez jersey.

At 40 years, 143 days, Sheffield is the fourth-oldest player to hit 500 behind Willie McCovey (40 years, 171 days), Eddie Murray (40, 194) and (Ted Williams 41, 291).

Sheffield was 0-for-4 with three walks for the Mets before the homer. He made his first start of the season Wednesday after signing with New York on April 4. Sheffield was stunned when the Tigers released him March 31, saying they wanted a more versatile player to fill his spot. Earlier in the spring, he talked about bringing his family, including cousin and former Mets ace Dwight Gooden, to Toronto for Detroit's first series of the season in case he hit No. 500.

It was unclear if his family was present Friday night, but former Mets star Darryl Strawberry visited him in the clubhouse.

Sheffield joins Ken Griffey Jr. (613), Alex Rodriguez (553), Jim Thome (543) and Manny Ramirez (527) as the only active players to reach the milestone.

Known as much for his outspoken personality as he is for his vicious swing that made him one of the most feared hitters in the game, Sheffield joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Frank Robinson and Reggie Jackson as the only players with 500 homers plus at least 2,500 hits, 1,500 RBIs and 200 stolen bases.

Slowed by shoulder injuries and other problems last season, Sheffield hit just .225 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs. He hit .178 with five homers in 45 spring training at-bats this year, but the Mets are taking a relatively low-cost gamble that he'll revert to form.

The Tigers will pay $13.6 million of his $14 million contract while the Mets get him for the major league minimum of $400,000.

Sheffield was pursed by several teams, including the Phillies, before signing with New York.

He said the allure of returning to New York — where he played for the Yankees from 2004-06 — was a big draw.

Gooden, was a star pitcher for the Mets in the 1980s and '90s and encouraged him several times over the years to sign with the Mets. Sheffield nearly did on multiple occasions, but it never quite worked out that he would call Shea Stadium home.

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