NEW YORK, JUNE 5 -- He was neither overpowering nor sharp. His curveball was inconsistent, his fastball not at its midsummer best. He needed 101 pitches just to get through five innings, and when he walked off the mound in the seventh, only five "K" cards were hung over the right field railing.

Yet for everything that has happened to Dwight Gooden and the New York Mets this season, Gooden's 1987 debut tonight was a stunning success, one that resulted in a 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates before a rocking, roaring crowd of 51,402 at Shea Stadium.

After 28 days in the Smithers Alcoholism and Treatment Center and five starts in the minor leagues, Gooden got his first victory of the season by pitching 6 2/3 innings and allowing four hits and one earned run.

He walked four and struck out five in a 121-pitch, 75-strike performance. The sellout crowd greeted the 22-year-old with a pregame standing ovation and followed with ovations when he batted in the second and fifth innings.

He got another when he walked off the mound in the seventh, and tipped his cap. When the cheering continued, he returned for a curtain call.

"It's good to get that first one under my belt," Gooden said. "It's good to feel like part of the team again. It was like Christmas just being back out there, literally, like my first game."

After the game, Gooden answered questions for the first time since he tested positive for cocaine use in March and began a drug rehabilitation program. Although he would not answer questions about drugs or drug use, he did talk expansively about baseball and how he felt being away from it.

"It's been tough," he said. To spend two months away from the people who've become close friends and the game you've known since childhood is hard. It's great to be back. It's fun again. Last season wasn't fun for a stretch, and the World Series wasn't much {when he didn't pitch well}. This is fun, and we're getting our whole team back together."

Of his performance, he said, "I felt I pitched well. The last inning I got a little tired and started getting the ball up, but I had pretty good command. It's good to get the first one over, and now I can go on and be a regular part of the team the rest of the year."

On the mound, he returned to basics, throwing only a fastball and curveball. The Mets believe that getting away from those pitches was what caused Gooden's puzzling slump last season, and they've asked him to shelve all his other pitches for now.

And although he was inconsistent tonight, he may have given the fans a taste of things to come when he got in front of catcher Mike LaValliere with two strikes in the second inning, then broke a beautiful curve over the plate for strike three.

"That was my best pitch of the night," Gooden said.

To which LaValliere added, "That was a helluva pitch."

But not everyone was impressed. "He threw the ball well," Pirates first baseman Sid Bream said, "but I still don't believe he had the kind of stuff he had in '85 when I first saw him."

The Mets clubhouse was impressed, if not with the substance, certainly with the style.

"This showed there's a lot of confidence inside him," Darryl Strawberry said. "It shows he's not worried about anything except pitching."

Gooden said he didn't get to sleep until "2 or 3" in the morning and was up at 7. "The day really dragged," he said. "I came to the ballpark at 3 and watched batting practice and played some cards. I was glad to get out there to warm up in the bullpen, but I was really fighting butterflies. The fans were great. I was trying to concentrate on the game, but it was great to get that kind of reception."

The bottom line was that the first part of Gooden's comeback from drug problems was successful. Although he's only 22, Gooden tonight produced his 59th major league victory in his 100th appearance. To put that in perspective, when he pitched for Tidewater against Maine in a minor league game Sunday, he was the youngest player on either roster.

Gooden joined the Mets at a critical time, with pitchers Rick Aguilera, Bobby Ojeda, Roger McDowell and David Cone on the disabled list and with Ron Darling winless since April 22.

They are so desperate for pitching that they will announce Saturday the signing of 42-year-old Tom Seaver. Seaver, joining the Mets for the third time, was thought to be retired after having not re-signed with the Boston Red Sox or received any offers. He reportedly has been doing no throwing and may need four weeks or more to get in shape.

So tonight Gooden joined a team that, after winning 108 games last year, is stumbling at 25-25, in fourth place and six games out of first place. The Mets, who had seven hits, took the lead for good in the first on two Pittsburgh errors.

Pittsburgh's Mike Dunne, making his major league debut, walked Wally Backman with one out, then balked. Third baseman Jim Morrison bobbled Keith Hernandez's easy grounder, and Gary Carter walked to load the bases. Strawberry hit a double-play grounder to second baseman Johnny Ray, whose throw got away from shortstop Rafael Belliard, Backman scoring and Hernandez taking third. Hernandez scored the second run on Mookie Wilson's infield grounder.

Gooden and Jesse Orosco (11th save) made those runs stand up.

Gooden opened the game by striking out Barry Bonds -- "The biggest out," he said. "I really wanted that one."

He walked Belliard to open the third inning, then threw late to second on Dunne's sacrifice bunt. Bonds flied to left, and Van Slyke's playable fly fell in front of right fielder Strawberry for a single. That loaded the bases, and Ray hit a sacrifice fly to center. End of Pirates.

Said Mets Manager Davey Johnson, "This is something to build on."

Cardinals 5, Cubs 1:

Greg Mathews (3-4) gave up two hits in 7 1/3 innings and John Morris had two RBI as St. Louis won in Chicago. Scott Sanderson (3-2) struck out 10 -- and eight in a row -- in 5 1/3 innings but allowed 11 hits.

Padres 10, Braves 3:

In Atlanta, Eric Show (2-7) pitched a five-hitter, and Tony Gwynn and Bruce Bochy homered as San Diego ended its three-game losing streak.

Phillies 7, Expos 6:

Von Hayes' second homer of the game broke a seventh-inning tie and gave Philadelphia the victory over visiting Montreal.

Astros 6, Giants 1:

Mike Scott gave up two hits in seven innings, struck out 13 and retired the last 19 to lead Houston's home conquest of San Francisco.

Reds 8, Dodgers 6:

Eric Davis, hitless in his last 17 at-bats, delivered a two-out, three-run homer in the seventh as Cincinnati rallied from a 6-0 deficit to beat visiting Los Angeles.