NEW YORK -- The loudest reception in pregame introductions was prompted by the mention, by emcee Howie Rose, of Johan Santana, who was warming up in the bullpen. David Wright, Frankie Rodriguez, Howard Johnson -- a tad surprising, perhaps -- and Jason Bay were embraced by more folks than anyone other than Santana, until Darryl Strawberry walked to the mound, or the area in front of the mound. His duty was to throw out the first pitch, which he did -- sort of.

An hour after explaining, "I don't throw anymore. I have to cheat," Strawberry proved it. From 55 feet, he easily reached ceremonial catcher HoJo with a the kind of pitch he wouldn't have liked -- high and tight to a lefty hitter. But the pitch was thrown at the speed of a Livan Hernandez changeup.

Strawberry, dressed to the nines as always, except for the uniform top he wore -- 18 is a multiple of nine -- seemed to revel in his new role as senior statesman.

The loudest jeers, not surprisingly, were for Oliver Perez and -- more good-naturedly -- Mets trainers Ray Ramirez and Mike Herbst.

Barajas, Catalanotto missing nameplates

NEW YORK -- Rod Barajas entered the Mets' clubhouse for the first time Saturday night after the team had flown in from Florida and made the short trip from LaGuardia Airport. Some of his teammates walked directly to the lockers they had been assigned last season. Other new Mets located their lockers and dropped off some belongings.

Barajas, though, walked around the clubhouse and came to one unmistakable conclusion -- "I guess I didn't make the team after all. ... When am I flying out?"

It was a fair question. No locker or, at least, no nameplate -- so no job. No nameplate was in place Monday, either. Barajas' had fallen through the cracks, clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels said.

Another name plate had become obsolete overnight. Samuels had accommodated the request of Frank Catalanotto to wear uniform No. 27, rather than the No. 2 the lefty pinch-hitter had been assigned during Spring Training. Catalanatto had worn No. 27 at every turn in his 13-year career. But as recently as Sunday, Samuels said he was holding No. 27 in case Nelson Figueroa returned.

"People always think I wear 27 because of my birthday," Catalanotto said. "April 27. But I've had it everywhere. It's good to have it again.

Francoeur now a perfect fit for nameplate

NEW YORK -- Only the truly meticulous were disturbed last season when some of the nameplates slid into the posted batting order outside the clubhouse were different fonts or had letters of different sizes. But now, it's all uniform. Even the one bearing Jeff Francoeur's name fit. "Not the way I spell it," coach Dave Jauss said. "I think I have three or four extra vowels when I spell his name. I had four different spellings in Spring Training."

"Spell it any way you want," Francoeur said. "Just make sure I'm in the lineup."

Rodriguez's brother still stabilized

NEW YORK -- As far as Francisco Rodriguez knew, his brother Leandro had a difficult but still stabilized night. The closer said his brother told family members he experienced little pain in the immediate aftermath of the truck accident that involved him, a brother and three others last week in Venezuela -- despite multiple fractures in his legs, hips and rib cage.

"But he's been in a lot pain since he got to the hospital," Rodriguez said. "He's got a long recovery coming."

Strawberry's thoughts remain with Doc

NEW YORK -- When the Mets defeated the Pirates at Shea Stadium on Opening Day in 1987, they did so to a great degree because of Darryl Strawberry. He hit a three-run home run in the first inning of the 3-2 victory. Bobby Ojeda was not only the winning pitcher, he was also a replacement for Dwight Gooden, who had begun his first rehab after testing positive for cocaine.

As a salute to Gooden, Strawberry wore Gooden's uniform pants that day.

Twenty-three years later, Strawberry was thinking of Gooden again.

"I'm just praying for him and his family," Strawberry said Monday before his ceremonial pitch.

Gooden was arrested March 23 for driving under the influence of drugs, leaving the scene of an accident and child endangerment in New Jersey. It was the latest entry in Gooden's long rap sheet that began in 1987.

Strawberry, whose career was also derailed by drugs and legal troubles, said he reached out to Gooden, but declined to get into details of the conversation.

Mets teammates from 1984-90, Gooden and Strawberry are to be inducted together into the Mets' Hall of Fame Aug. 1. The club has made only perfunctory statements about Gooden's most recent trouble vis-a-vis the planned induction.

There has been no indication that the club had planned to have Gooden share the first-pitch duties with Strawberry before it learned of Gooden's latest indiscretions.