JUPITER, Fla. -- David Cone, who once pitched a perfect game, happily settled for a perfect inning Wednesday.
In his first appearance in his comeback with the New York Mets, Cone retired the Florida Marlins 1-2-3 in the fourth inning. The game was his first since Oct. 6, 2001, when he pitched eight innings to help Boston beat Baltimore.
''I earned my meal money today,'' he said.
The 40-year-old right-hander also earned a standing ovation when he walked off the mound, and he responded by waving his cap.
''That was really nice,'' he said. ''I've had my doubts as to whether I should be trying this. When things like that happen, it makes it worthwhile.''
A reluctant retiree last year, Cone is now bidding for a job as the Mets' fifth starter. Only seven of his 15 pitches were strikes, and he fell behind every batter, but he threw everything in his repertoire, including two splitters.
Cone said he was pleasantly surprised that his fastball topped out at 88 mph.
''I can pitch with that sort of stuff,'' he said, adding with a laugh, ''I did for the last five years of my career.''
Cone quit after pitching in 2001 for Boston, where he started 7-0 but finished 9-7. The Mets lured him back with a deal that would pay him $550,000 if he is added to the major league roster.
''This is a better way for me to do this, rather than just fade away as I did last year,'' he said. ''Whatever happens, I consider this a good experience.''
Cone said he'll be ready to throw a couple innings and 30 or 40 pitches in his next outing.
''We know he knows how to pitch,'' Mets manager Art Howe said. ''We need to see him stretch out. We need to see where he is in a couple of weeks.''
Cone won the AL Cy Young Award in 1994 with Kansas City, threw a perfect game in 1999 for the New York Yankees and owns five World Series rings. He's only seven wins shy of 200. But he still felt butterflies when he took the mound at Roger Dean Stadium to cheers from the crowd.
''Regardless of how much experience you have, you're nervous,'' he said. ''No one wants to get embarrassed.''
The first two batters he faced -- Al Martin, 35, and Gerald Williams, 36 -- created matchups that looked like something out of a senior league.
Cone twice fell behind Martin, then retired him on a groundball with a splitter. Williams was ahead in the count 3-0 but flied out on a 3-1 fastball. Chad Allen then flied out on another 3-1 fastball.
Step one in the comeback was complete.
''If anybody can do it, he can,'' Marlins manager Jeff Torborg said. ''He looked good. The balls he missed were just off, and he kept it down.''
After icing his shoulder, Cone talked with reporters for 15 minutes -- one for every pitch he threw. His return is big news in New York, where he became a star with the Mets in 1988 and helped the Yankees win four World Series titles.
''Everybody is wanting to know if I have anything left, and can I hold up,'' Cone said. ''That's going to be the question.''
One inning of perfection left him a little more optimistic about the answer.
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