Sheffield reaches rare milestone

NEW YORK -- Gary Sheffield hit his 500th home run Friday night to become 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, his first hit of the season for the New York Mets after being cut by the Detroit Tigers the last week of spring training.

"Just to join that 500 club, you know. Now I can say I'm in the club and, you know, it's like getting your degree. Nobody can never take that away from you," Sheffield said after the Mets beat the Brewers 5-4.

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

"They were very happy. They've been very supportive ever since I got here," Sheffield said. That's all we've been talking about, as well as winning a championship and what I bring to this team. ... They've been very special to me."

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.

"He has been a great addition to the chemistry of the team. When he's not playing, he's talking to guys about hitting, what he looks for, those types of things," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "And, you know, every time you call on him, he seems to put together a pretty good at-bat. So to see him get that, to hit that at that time, to tie the game ... that was big for us."

At 40 years, 150 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 uncle and former Mets ace Dwight Gooden, to Toronto for Detroit's first series of the season in case he hit No. 500.

His wife and children were among the crowd of 36,436 on Friday night.

"It has been nerve wracking for them, especially not knowing when I'm going to get to play," he said.

He also got some pregame advice from former Mets star Darryl Strawberry.

"He told me, 'Just relax and do what you do,'" Sheffield said.

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.

Sheffield is connected to Bonds in another manner. He told a 2003 grand jury that he took a performance-enhancer called "the cream" that was given to him by Bonds' trainer, but did not know it contained illegal substances.

Slowed by shoulder injuries and other problems last season, Sheffield hit just .225 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs. He was released by Detroit after hitting .178 with five homers in 45 spring training at-bats this year.

"Everything happens for a reason, you know," Sheffield said. "There was a reason why I hit 19 home runs instead of 20 last year. I could have did it then, but there was a reason why me having get released and then coming here and doing it on the biggest stage. So it makes it that much more special for me as well as my family."

Sheffield was pursued 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.