04/03/2002 7:20 pm ET
Mo better blues
Loss more on Vaughn's mind than 300th HR
By Kevin Czerwinski / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Mo Vaughn ran his massive hand over his head Wednesday afternoon and just sighed.
Whether he was hitting tape-measure shots in South Orange, N.J., or Boston or Anaheim, he has been forever linked to the long ball. But Vaughn found little joy in the blast he sent out of Shea Stadium on Wednesday. The best he could manage was a subdued smile and hope for a better tomorrow.
That it was his 300th career round tripper mattered little to the big first baseman. The more important numbers were the ones on the scoreboard when the final pitch was thrown: Pirates 5, Mets 3. It may have only been the second game of the season, but a loss is a loss whether it's Game 7 of the World Series or game No. 2 in April. It can't be any other way for Vaughn.
"Three hundred is what it is," Vaughn said. "I hope I can hit some more. Our thing is to try and win some games, though, so this isn't as nice. I could hit three or four homers and if you don't win, it's not as sweet.
"All losses are hard. I take them all hard," Vaughn said. "You win and you live, and you die every time you lose. It took me a short time to figure that out. It doesn't matter that I've been out of the game for a year. You should take a loss like that. It should hurt a little
bit. We'll be all right, though. We'll be solid."
For the Mets to be solid, they need Vaughn, 34, to be solid. He had gone hitless in his first six at-bats, striking out twice, for New York. The fans didn't seem to notice, though. Every at-bat, every time he takes the field, everything the swashbuckling Vaughn has
done since joining the Mets in December has turned into an event, and Wednesday's third-inning confrontation with Kip Wells was no exception.
Vaughn cranked out a 2-2 slider that didn't move nearly as much as Wells would have liked. The result: The ball came to rest some 411 feet from home plate, between the right-center-field fence and the big Shea scoreboard.
It was the first time Vaughn had broken into his home-run trot since Sept. 24, 2000. He was still with Anaheim then, still struggling to adjust to life after two seasons on the West Coast. But this is the East Coast, home for the Norwalk, Conn., native. The 25,952 fans in Queens were on their feet by the time Vaughn reached first base and didn't sit down until he came out of the dugout for a curtain call. They rose and cheered again when he went out on the field in the top of the fourth inning.
"The crowd really embraced me, they know baseball very well here," said Vaughn, who also had an RBI single in the eighth. "The intensity is awesome to be around. I missed that in California. It's nice to come out and play hard. [The fans] are our 10th man. I don't remember if I had any curtain calls in California."
Vaughn said he's giving the home-run ball to manager Bobby Valentine as a sign of thanks. The skipper was instrumental in bringing the Seton Hall product to Queens and Vaughn is thankful. Valentine and general manager Steve Phillips watched proudly as Vaughn attacked Grapefruit League pitching last month, proving that a year off to let his surgically repaired torn biceps heal had done little to diminish his ability with a bat.
Though he suffered a slightly pulled hamstring in Spring Training, Vaughn hit .304 in 19 games. He had three homers, seven RBIs and a .500 slugging percentage. After a while, it was clear that the small towns and tiny parks in Florida could no longer hold his interest.
"After three or four weeks of Spring Training I was like, 'Let's get out of here,' " Vaughn said. "I didn't want to stay any longer. It didn't feel like I had missed an entire season. And I'm never going to use not playing for a season as an excuse for failure. I don't
work like that. I don't live like that."
It didn't take long for the fans at Shea to notice. It didn't take long for Vaughn to win them over. So, while the New York faithful can appreciate Vaughn's milestone homer on Wednesday, the slugger will wait a little while before savoring what he has accomplished.
"You keep your head down while you're playing for your whole career," Vaughn said. "If you look up at the end and you've played right and done everything right, you'll be when you're supposed to be. When you're all done, you want to look back on it and say you wouldn't have done anything differently.
"It's not 500, though. I'm not going to have a party tonight because I hit 300. I've been hitting home runs for a lot of years. I'm just doing what I do to help the team."
Kevin Czerwinski covers the Mets for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.