Sosa laments homer that got away


NEW YORK (AP) -- Sammy Sosa took a big swing and sent a fly ball soaring to left field. Sure it was home run No. 500, he immediately
threw his arms up, took a signature hop and clapped his hands.

"I hit it great,'' he said. "Everybody thought it.''

Instead of history and a tying three-run homer, however, the
ball was blown back into the park and fell for a harmless out,
exactly the kind of break the New York Mets needed Wednesday night
in a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Al Leiter gave the Mets the type of pitching performance they
lacked in Tom Glavine's debut, a 15-2 drubbing in Monday's opener.
Cliff Floyd and Roger Cedeno homered, giving manager Art Howe his
first victory in a New York uniform.

"The first one is the toughest,'' Howe said.

The Mets won minus All-Star catcher Mike Piazza, who began
serving his four-game suspension for charging Los Angeles reliever
Guillermo Mota and going into the Dodgers' clubhouse looking for
him in spring training.

The Cubs were trying for their first 2-0 start since 1995, and
Sosa nearly gave them a good chance to get it.

Walked his first two times up, Sosa came to bat again in the
sixth with runners on first and second, no outs and Chicago
trailing 4-1. With fans in the left-center field bleachers standing
and a representative from the Hall of Fame ready to collect his
bat, Slammin' Sammy cut loose.

"I put a great swing on that ball,'' Sosa said.

To the sparse Shea Stadium crowd, it looked like a home run and
the fans let out a big shout. Sosa also thought he'd become the
18th major leaguer to reach 500 homers as he put his head down and
began a wide trot.

"I thought he hit it,'' Leiter said. "When he did his little
dance, I thought it, too.''

But the ball got caught in the wind and dropped into Floyd's
mitt on the warning track, Sosa cut across the diamond back to the
dugout and that was the closest the Cubs came to getting back in
the game.

"I probably hit it too high. The wind stopped it,'' Sosa said.
"I wish I could get it over with today. Sooner or later, I'm going
to hit it.''

Leiter (1-0) limited the Cubs to four hits in six innings. David
Weathers and Mike Stanton each followed with a scoreless inning and
Armando Benitez pitched the ninth for his first save.

Moises Alou hit an RBI single in the first, but the Mets ended
the inning with one of their three double plays. Horrible in the
field Monday, New York improved -- first baseman Mo Vaughn even got
a big cheer when he lumbered to beat Cubs pinch-hitter Lenny Harris
to the bag on a grounder.

Floyd's first home run for the Mets, a drive estimated at 455
feet, and a shaky outing by Matt Clement (0-1) helped New York
score three times in the first. Clement tied a Cubs' record by
throwing three wild pitches in an inning.

Cedeno homered in the second, and Clement was pulled after three
innings because of tightness in his left lower back.

"He jammed it. We think he'll be OK,'' Cubs manager Dusty Baker

Cubs relievers did a lot better than Clement. Mark Guthrie took
over in the fourth and struck out the side, then Joe Borowski
fanned the side in the fifth. On opening day, Chicago reliever Juan
Cruz struck out six in a row all by himself.

Game notes
Terry Adams was the last Cubs pitcher to throw three wild
pitches in an inning, doing it in 1998. The major league record for
a regular-season game is four, shared by Walter Johnson and Phil
Niekro. Rick Ankiel threw five in one inning during the 2000
playoffs. ... Mets batting coach Denny Walling was released from
the hospital after having an angioplasty to relieve a narrowing of
a coronary artery. He is expected to be out 7-to-10 days. Chris
Chambliss, the Mets' minor league hitting coordinator, will fill in
for Walling.