Gary Sheffield takes a punch
Gary Sheffield turned to the Boston fan who hit him, his fist cocked and his temper hot.
Then, the New York Yankees outfielder stopped himself from doing something foolish. "We have to give Sheffield a lot of credit,'' Boston's Johnny Damon said, "for him to restrain himself the way he did.''
Sheffield was fielding Jason Varitek's two-run triple along the low right-field fence in the eighth inning of the Red Sox's 8-5 victory Thursday night when a fan swung a short uppercut in his direction, appearing to graze the side of the slugger's face with his right arm. "Something hit me in the mouth. It felt like a hand,'' Sheffield said. "I thought my lip was busted.''
After Sheffield picked up the ball, he shoved the fan before throwing the ball back to the infield as two runs scored. Another fan's beer also sprayed in Sheffield's direction. "I tried to get his hand out of my face so I could continue on with the play,'' he said. "To get punched in the mouth, you don't expect that in a baseball game.''
Sheffield then whirled around with a cocked fist, shouting in the face of the first man -- but restrained himself and did not throw a punch. A security official quickly jumped over the three-foot wall to separate the two. Players and more security officials gathered in the area, but order was soon restored. "I guess there's always one idiot in the stands,'' New York captain Derek Jeter said.
As Sheffield walked away, he rubbed the side of his face and then looked at his hand. "It could have been worse if I didn't hold my composure,'' Sheffield said. "I almost snapped, but I thought about the consequences.''
There had been plenty of action before that -- three homers off Randy Johnson, the ejection of Boston manager Terry Francona and hitting coach Ron Jackson after questionable calls by plate umpire Greg Gibson and three hits and three RBIs by Hideki Matsui.
The teams already have seen plenty of each other, meeting six times in their first nine games with many memorable twists -- a walk-off homer by Jeter, two blown saves by Mariano Rivera, a pregame ceremony where the Red Sox got their championship rings and two homers off Curt Schilling in a poor season debut.
Despite their rivalry, the teams had played clean, exciting games. Yankee pitchers didn't even retaliate when Boston pitchers hit four of their batters in the opening series in New York.
That emotion has erupted beyond the field's fences before.
During the 2003 AL playoffs, two Yankees players got into a brawl with a Red Sox groundskeeper in New York's bullpen. Relief pitcher Jeff Nelson and outfielder Karim Garcia were charged with assault but agreed to a deal last October that called for the charges against them to be dropped in six months. "We have two great teams and two great baseball cities and a lot of emotion,'' Francona said.
Johnson got pounded -- although he allowed just five hits -- and reliever Tom Gordon (0-1) gave up three runs in one inning with the score tied 5-5 after seven. "He had good stuff,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said of Johnson, "but, again, when he made pitches not where he wanted them, they cost him dearly.''
Two-run homers by Jay Payton in the second and Edgar Renteria in the third, and a solo shot by Varitek in the fourth left the game tied 5-5. New York had scored on Matsui's RBI double in the third then added four runs in the fourth on a bases-loaded walk to Sheffield., a two-run single by Matsui and an RBI single by Rodriguez.
Damon led off Boston's eighth with a single and scored the go-ahead run on Renteria's double. David Ortiz was walked intentionally before Varitek lined his triple, putting right fielder Sheffield on a collision course with the unruly fan. "These people shouldn't be allowed to walk the streets much less come to a ballgame,'' Torre said. "It was an ugly incident.''
There have been others in sports recently.
On Nov. 19, players and fans exchanged punches in the stands near the end of a Pacers-Pistons game in one of the worst brawls in NBA history. The mayhem left several people injured and prompted a police investigation.
Last September, the Rangers got into a fight with fans in Oakland, and Texas reliever Frank Francisco was arrested after throwing a chair into the stands that broke a woman's nose.
On Sept. 28, Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley was ejected after slamming a plastic bottle down in the front row of the right-field seats after a fan threw it onto the field. He was suspended for the rest of the regular season.
Then, there's Fenway's fanatics. "People here yell at you and throw things at you, all kinds of things all game long,'' Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams said. "But what that guy did was different, totally unexpected. It was dangerous.''
It could have been worse. "I just tried to point the guy out'' to police, Sheffield said. "They were telling me to calm down.''