In only three innings of a meaningless exhibition game, Darryl Strawberry showed the Los Angeles Dodgers what to expect this season and the New York Mets just what they'll miss.
Facing his former teammates for the first time, Strawberry hit a 400-foot homer off best friend Ron Darling, lined a run-scoring double and made a perfect throw to the plate in the Dodgers' 4-3 loss to the Mets on Friday."It was real different seeing them on the other side. But I'm not trying to get back at anyone," Strawberry said. "I don't wish nothing bad on nobody. I am not angry.
"You're always going to talk to them, they're still your friends," he said, very evenly. "I think those guys realize I was a big part of their ballclub. Now, I've told the Dodgers that I'm raising the level of my game to a different level."
The fans changed, too. The sellout crowd that booed him during pregame introductions was cheering and pleading for more when he left.
Whether it's the strength of his new-found religion, the security from his five-year, $20.25 million contract, the stability at playing in his hometown, whatever. Those that know the man Tommy Lasorda calls "the biggest impact player in baseball" say this is a different Strawberry.
"He had one of those games you love to have. It was quite a statement," Darling said. "He looks especially locked in for this early."
Then again, maybe it's his new number. When he couldn't wear familiar No. 18 because it belonged to coach Bill Russell, Strawberry changed to No. 44, saying that's what home-run hitters wore.
Strawberry hit 252 homers in eight seasons with the Mets, including 37 with a team-record 108 RBIs last year, before New York let its free agent get away. The Mets are hoping to replace his power with a combination of speed and punch - free agent Vince Coleman went 0-for-3 in his debut as the new leadoff hitter and Hubie Brooks was 0-for-2 and misplayed a fly ball to right.
Strawberry, meanwhile, hit an RBI double off David Cone and scored in the first inning, threw out Gregg Jefferies trying to score on Mackey Sasser's single in the second and connected off Darling in the third.
Strawberry left the game after fouling out in the fifth, and the Mets eventually overcame a 3-0 deficit, tying it on Chris Donnels' homer off John Candelaria in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Mark Carreon, batting for winning pitcher Jeff Innis, homered off Jim Gott to lead off the ninth.
In his Dodgers debut Thursday against Detroit, Strawberry doubled in three at-bats and threw out a runner who rounded first base too far. Strawberry did not decide until after the game that he would make the 45-minute trip from Vero Beach to Port St. Lucie to face all the commotion in the Mets' spring opener.
"The Mets are just another team to me now. I'm not concerned about who I play against," Strawberry said. "This is my job. I have to focus on playing the best I can and getting ready for the season."
Strawberry, however, will not be in the lineup Saturday when the Dodgers again travel to play the Mets and starter Dwight Gooden, another good friend. Strawberry instead will be at the airport, picking up his family.
"It was kind of tough, seeing him in that uniform. I wish he still was with us," Gooden said. "The first time I face him, it will be kind of strange."