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CHICAGO (AP) _ New York Mets hitting coach Dave Engle was fired Monday, becoming the first casualty of the team's poor offensive start.

``He worked very, very hard. He just didn't have success,'' Mets general manager Steve Phillips said of Engle, who held the position for one season plus the first 62 games of this year.

The Mets have one of the highest payrolls in baseball, and Phillips brought in several big-name players _ among them Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn _ to aid an offense that was last in the NL in runs scored last season.

But as play began Monday, the Mets were still near the bottom of the league in key offensive categories, ranking 13th in runs and 14th in batting average.

``I find it hard to believe,'' Phillips said. ``They all hit last year. It's our entire offensive production. I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would turn around.''

Most every Mets player, with the exception of Edgardo Alfonzo, is not hitting to their previous levels. Vaughn is batting .226 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 48 games, and Alomar is batting .274 _ well below his lifetime .306 average.

``He doesn't hit,'' Alomar said of Engle. ``It's a sad day because it's not his fault. We still have to go out and hit the ball.''

No successor was immediately named, though Phillips said the team would probably go outside the organization for a replacement.

Mets manager Bobby Valentine said that until a new batting coach was hired, first-base coach Mookie Wilson would take the lead. Bench coach Tom Robson, the Mets' hitting coach before his dismissal in 1999, will also help out.

``I feel bad for Dave,'' Valentine said. ``He said all the right things (to players), but I can't guarantee the right things were heard, and it's obvious the right things weren't applied.''

Engle, 45, was appointed Mets batting coach in December 2000. Before that, he served as a minor league manager within the organization.