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Sheffield joins the elite after hitting his 500th home run

GARY Sheffield hit his 500th home run on Friday to become the 25th player in major league history to reach the milestone, belting a drive to left off Milwaukee's Mitch Stetter in 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.

"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 then 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, New York, 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.

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.

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


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