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Cone pitches five solid innings for victory

4/5/2003

NEW YORK (AP) -- After all that time, David Cone still felt right
at home.

Cone turned back the clock and the surprising Expos, pitching
five impressive innings in his first game since 2001 and leading
the New York Mets over Montreal 4-0 on a cold, miserable Friday
night.

"This is so unexpected to be in this position," the
40-year-old Cone said. "It's kind of hard to describe."

Making his first outing for the Mets at Shea Stadium since 1992,
Cone was everything he and his old team could've hoped for in this
comeback start.

Throwing every sort of breaking ball from all different angles,
he held the Expos to two singles -- both by pitcher Tomo Ohka _
while striking out five and walking three.

"Obviously, I can't throw as hard as I used to," Cone said.
"It is more of a thinking man's style."

The Expos came into Shea Stadium after outscoring Atlanta 17-2
in a season-opening three-game sweep. But Cone made Montreal look
feeble, the same way he did on July 18, 1999, when he pitched a
perfect game against the Expos while with the New York Yankees.

Cone was comfortable from the start. The mound, the crowd and
the uniform were familiar, and he showed he remembered his other
skills, too. Cone singled in his first at-bat and later slid into
second base on a force play.

"It was my first slide in about 12 years," he kidded. "That
wasn't very pretty. It was more of a collapse."

A sparse but spirited crowd far short of the announced 18,040
sat through tough conditions. It was 37 degrees at gametime, with
14 mph winds blowing a heavy mist across the diamond.

"You don't see this kind of thing happen every day," Mets
manager Art Howe said. "I guess he doesn't want to retire, let's
face it."

Cone (1-0) was always a favorite at Shea, and his rooters saw
him earn his 194th career victory and first since Oct. 6, 2001, for
the Boston Red Sox in Cal Ripken's final game before retirement.

Prominent among the fans were his Coneheads, the kooky group
that used to wear flesh-colored cones on their heads -- inspired by
the "Saturday Night Live" skit -- when he pitched. About 50 of the
old members were in the upper deck behind the plate, along with
same "Cone Co'ner" sign they sported in 1988.

"We're not kids anymore," 33-year-old Cliff Seltzer said.
"This is 20 pounds and a kid later, but it's the same group, so
it's a lot of fun."

Their original cones melted long ago, so they found some new
ones at a Queens costume shop. The group also displayed a picture
of Scott Saber, a founding member who was killed in the World Trade
Center terrorist attacks.

"This just brings back good memories. Those were good times,
and he'd be right here with us," said another of the founders,
Andrew Levy, who runs a sports marketing firm that promotes Cone
and other athletes.

Mo Vaughn hit his first homer of the season and an RBI single.
Vance Wilson, again subbing for the suspended Mike Piazza, hit a
two-run double in the fourth off Ohka (0-1) that ended the Expos'
streak of 22 scoreless innings.

A five-time All-Star, Cone owns five World Series rings, the
most among active major leaguers. He was at his crafty best when he
faced slugger Vladimir Guerrero with the bases loaded and two outs
in the third inning.

Guerrero fouled off two pitches, both times grimacing after just
missing on big swings. With the count 2-2, he swung over a
tantalizing, 71 mph curve. Guerrero was among the few remaining
Expos who played in Cone's perfect game at Yankee Stadium.

"It's just what you saw. He tricked us all night," Montreal
manager Frank Robinson said. "We're a very aggressive hitting
ballclub, and he used that to his advantage."

Cone said he hoped for a fast first inning. He had extra reason
to want it because of the elements, blowing on his hands to keep
warm while taking deep, frosty breaths.

The Expos didn't look too comfortable either, as center fielder
Endy Chavez wore a ski mask over his cap and a headband across his
nose.

After pawing at the mound for a few seconds, Cone needed only
nine pitches to get Chavez and Jose Vidro on routine grounders and
strike out Guerrero. The Mets met Cone with hearty congratulations
and high-fives when he returned to the bench, and the crowd let out
a big cheer.

"I wanted to get that first strike. It was calming," he said.
"The ovation after the first inning kind of brought me back,"

Along with being happy just to see his fine, 84-pitch outing,
the Mets needed it -- No. 3 starter Pedro Astacio is out with
shoulder tendinitis and the team had stumbled to a 1-2 start.

Cone, who rose to stardom with the Mets from 1987-92, sat out
the entire 2002 season while considering his future, often working
as a Yankees' announcer. The Expos tried to sign him, but he said
no.

Earlier this year, Cone thought about retiring before the Mets
intrigued the former Cy Young winner with an invitation to spring
training.

Game notes
Ohka, batting .137 lifetime, got the first multihit game of
his career. ... Rey Sanchez got his first hit for the Mets, ending
an 0-for-13 slump to start the season. ... Cone' last hit came in
2000 for the Yankees. ... Mets pitchers struck out 13.

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