Sheffield becomes 25th major leaguer to hit 500 homers

NEW YORK -- Gary Sheffield crossed home plate and thrust his arms in the air after unleashing his 500th homer with another vicious swing, and then the surly slugger was humbled by the site of his new Mets teammates pouring out of the dugout.

Sheffield was greeted with hugs and high fives after becoming the 25th player to reach the milestone with a tying homer in the seventh inning Friday. The party switched focus in the bottom of the ninth when Luis Castillo hit a two-out, run-scoring single to give the Mets a 5-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

"I was so excited that, you know, when I looked over to the dugout, those were the guys," said Sheffield, who signed with New York on April 4 after being released by Detroit four days earlier. "I appreciate every one of those guys. They've been very special to me."

Ryan Braun hit a three-run homer to give Milwaukee a 4-3 lead in the sixth before Sheffield homered off Mitch Stetter, who was facing his first batter in relief of starter Dave Bush.

Sheffield, a nine-time All-Star, was on as a pinch hitter and sent a full-count pitch an estimated 385 feet for his first hit of the season.

"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 squandering a bases-loaded opportunity in the eighth, Carlos Delgado doubled off Seth McClung (0-1) to start the ninth. Delgado scored on Castillo's single to short, when a diving J.J. Hardy couldn't deliver the throw to first in time to get Castillo.

Castillo was mobbed by his teammates after he touched first base.

"It was huge for him," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "He really has shown a lot of energy, you know, a lot of fight, and I kind of had the feeling that he wanted to be in that situation tonight, and that's a good thing."

New York's revamped bullpen gave up just one hit over the final four innings, with J.J. Putz (1-0) pitching a perfect ninth for his first win with the Mets.

At 40 years, 150 days days, Sheffield became the fourth-oldest player to hit 500 home runs behind Willie McCovey (40 years, 171 days), Eddie Murray (40, 194) and Ted Williams (41, 291).

Sheffield pumped both arms in the air as he began to round the bases, with cameras flashing throughout Citi Field. He touched home plate and pointed to the sky with both arms before hugging on-deck batter Jose Reyes.

Fans gave Sheffield a prolonged ovation. He raced up the dugout steps for a curtain call, waving his helmet to the crowd of 36,436.

"That was just a great reception," Sheffield said. "I was so numb at that time."

The homer, his 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.

Matcovich gave Sheffield the ball in exchange for signed jerseys for he and a few friends, and he posed for a photo with the 22-year veteran, who held the specially marked ball in one hand and raised five fingers with the other.

"I was never, ever going to drop it, that's basically what went through my mind at that point," said Matcovich, who caught it on the fly. "I wanted nothing but to just give it back to Gary. It was his ball, not mine."

Sheffield was appreciative of the gesture.

"A couple guys on the team kept saying it's going to cost you $500,000 to get that ball back. Are you willing to pay it?" Sheffield said. "I mean, that was, you know, special for him to do that. You know, he didn't have to do that."

Known as much for his outspoken personality as he is for a 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 and at least 2,500 hits, 1,500 RBIs and 200 stolen bases.

Sheffield was 0-for-4 with three walks for the Mets before the home run. He made his first start of the season Wednesday.

It was fitting that his homer came against the Brewers. Sheffield was drafted by the organization in 1986.

"I wished it didn't come at that time but you gotta tip your cap," Milwaukee's Prince Fielder said. "I mean, he's had a great career. Also, when he got it man, I mean that was a great at-bat as well. He fouled off some great pitches and he was able to do it. I didn't want to lose the game but I'm happy he was able to reach a goal like that."

New York was coming off its first series loss at Citi Field, but went ahead 3-0 in the first inning behind a sacrifice fly from Delgado, a walk to Ramon Castro with the bases loaded and an RBI single by Castillo.

Livan Hernandez couldn't hold the lead, though, and gave up seven hits and four runs in five-plus innings, including Braun's first homer of the season.

Game notes
Sheffield's first pinch-hit homer came on July 20, 1994, for Florida. ... The Mets placed C Brian Schneider on the 15-day DL because of a muscle strain in his back. They purchased the contract of Omir Santos from Triple-A Buffalo to fill his spot. ... The Mets gave the city's new archbishop, Timothy Dolan, a jersey before the game. Dolan was at the game with his predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan.