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Stands for Dodgers-Mets PMs

May 8, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ All those years Darryl Strawberry was hitting home runs, the New York Mets and their fans never thought it was enough.

So why should it have been any different when he returned to Shea Stadium Tuesday night?

Strawberry homered, all right. His towering two-run shot shut up his critics for awhile. But when he got a chance to tie the game in the ninth inning and instead grounded out to end the the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 6-5 loss to the Mets, the boo birds were louder than ever.

″I don’t worry about the reaction I get,″ Strawberry said. ″It’s just one of those things. That’s the way they are.″

All night long, the 47,744 fans were out in force. They began chanting the familiar ″Dar-ryl, Dar-ryl″ the instant he stepped out of the dugout for batting practice, and they spent the entire evening both cheering and booing.

Banners hung in right field - ″Strawberry Fields - Rotten and Forgotten,″ one taunted - and the Shea security force was increased from 120 to 140, just in case. They weren’t really needed; Strawberry spent some time waving to the crowd and his only problem came in the eighth inning, when he got a few real strawberries thrown at him as he stood in the on-deck circle.

″Yeah, it was a good night,″ Strawberry said. ″I just wish I could’ve gotten a hit the last time up.″

But after Strawberry broke a monster slump and began the Dodgers’ comeback from an early 6-0 deficit, he failed to come through in the clutch - which is what his critics claimed he did during his eight years with the Mets.

The Dodgers scored two runs with two outs in the ninth inning off John Franco, and put runners on first and third. Up stepped Strawberry, who tapped weakly to third baseman Chris Donnels.

″I got caught up in it,″ Mets manager Bud Harrelson said. ″I was saying to myself, ’I hope this script wasn’t written for him.‴

It wasn’t.

″The crowd got what it wanted,″ said Howard Johnson, who homered for the Mets. ″We win and Straw hits a home run.″

At least Strawberry, the Mets’ all-time home run leader, hit the ball. He began the day batting .214 with only one home run, and was in a 1-for-21 slump that included 12 strikeouts.

″I think it was good for him to get past this game,″ Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda said. ″I’m sure it was on his mind.″

Strawberry, who homered against the Mets the first time he faced them in spring training, always brought out the best and worst in the New York fans. They bellowed the first time he came up, and he responded with a rather routine fly ball.

He almost connected in the fourth inning against Frank Viola, hitting a fly ball to the warning track. In the sixth, after Juan Samuel singled with two outs, Strawberry homered over the fence in left-center field. That prompted the loudest reaction, a standing ovation split down the middle with boos and cheers.

″It was just something that happens when you face the team you used to play for,″ Strawberry said. ″You get aggressive.″

Eddie Murray followed Strawberry with another home run, and Viola (4-1) left after the sixth inning ended with stomach cramps.

″Straw seemed to get better each at-bat. I could see he was more comfortable,″ Viola said.

″Straw’s first time up, it was like a World Series,″ Viola said. ″People absolutely love or hate Straw and (Oakland’s Jose) Canseco. They’re the only two in all of baseball that command that.″

The Dodgers lined up in the dugout to greet Strawberry after his home run. On the other side, even a few Mets were smiling at Darryl’s sense of the dramatic.

The last time a star No. 44 returned to New York, it was the same thing. Then, it was Reggie Jackson, coming back from California with a .173 average and homering off Ron Guidry.

Jackson, however, was more like the prodigal son. He was the straw that stirred the drink in the glass that New Yorkers loved to sip. Strawberry, meanwhile, was cast aside by Mets management and came back anxious to prove he was worth the $20.25 million the Dodgers paid him.

″I think part of his struggles have been this date that’s been planted in his mind,″ teammate and former Mets partner Gary Carter said. ″He wanted to come here with some big numbers.″

Carter’s RBI double and Samuel’s RBI single brought Strawberry to the plate in the ninth. Franco finished him off for his seventh save.

Tim Belcher (3-3) kept his streak going, too. Errors by left fielder Kal Daniels and second baseman Samuel set up three runs in the first inning; Belcher has allowed 21 runs this season, and only 12 have been earned.

Despite the Dodgers’ fielding problems - 33 errors in 25 games - what they really need is Strawberry to get going. But Mets general manager Frank Cashen, sort of expected the slugger to start slowly.

″I’m not surprised,″ Cashen said. ″His whole career has been peaks and valleys. He’s a player who’s given to huge streaks.″

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