New York Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield, who said he thought "my lip was busted," pushed at a spectator who leaned over the front row in an apparent attempt to grab at a ball hit into the right-field corner last night in Fenway Park, but security quickly intervened before the incident escalated further.
The spectator, who was not identified by club or security officials, was escorted from the premises because he attempted to interfere with a ball in play, "consistent with our usual procedures," said Glenn Geffner, the team's vice president of media relations. No arrests were made, pending further interviews and review of video of the incident, which took place in the eighth inning of Boston's 8-5 win over the Yankees.
"I just felt something hit me in the mouth," Sheffield said. "It felt like a hand hit me in the mouth, but I have to look at the tape.
"I don't know if it punched me or not, but it felt like it. I thought my lip was busted. I continued with the play, then I thought about it and didn't react. It could have been worse if I didn't hold my composure. I almost snapped. I thought about the consequences."
Asked what consequences came to mind, Sheffield said: "Ron Artest," a reference to the Indiana Pacers basketball player who was suspended for the season after brawling with fans at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., in a game against the Detroit Pistons.
"That's the first thing that came to mind," he said. "'Don't react, and that's what I did."
Television replays appeared to show spectators leaning over the railing in Row A of Box 86 in Section 4, near the right-field foul pole, as Sheffield tried to field Jason Varitek's eighth-inning triple. A spectator who was wearing a blue baseball cap seemed to strike Sheffield's face as he was reaching for the ball, and a beer spilled onto Sheffield in the hubbub of other fans reaching for the ball.
Within a minute, according to other spectators in the section, police and security officials descended on the man, while Yankee teammates, including reliever Tanyon Sturtze, restrained Sheffield. The spectator was immediately taken away.
"Everybody was just going for the ball as it was banging around," said Keith Whamond of New Haven, who was sitting directly behind the spectator who made contact with Sheffield.
"Beer was flying, people were reaching over the wall, straining against the wall," said Whamond, who took video of the incident on his cellphone camera and said he did not see Sheffield strike the spectator. "Sheffield said, `Don't [expletive] punch me. He kept saying, `This guy tried to punch me.' "
Whamond said ushers had come down several times earlier in the game, warning the spectactors not to leave beers on the railing.
Helen Lambropoulos of Haverhill, who was sitting in the front row next to the ejected spectator, said it did not appear to her that the spectator had tried to hit Sheffield. "He was reaching for the ball."
A spectator standing in the second row, Jerry Croke of Southbridge, praised Sheffield for the way he handled the situation.
"I thought he showed great restraint," Croke said. "I tip my hat to him."
It was an "ugly incident," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who said Sheffield told him he had been struck in the jaw.
Asked if he was concerned for Sheffield's safety, Torre, who had not seen a replay, said: "No question, these people shouldn't be allowed to walk the streets, much less come to a ballgame. The sad part about it is it's a handful of people who screw it up for the people who just come to watch a ballgame."
Torre acknowledged that Sheffield appeared to want to go after the spectator. "He wanted to get at 'em, no question," Torre said. "I thought security did as well as they possibly could do. I'm happy he didn't get at the guy."
The spectator was interviewed by Red Sox security officials and police officers assigned to Fenway Park from District 4. "We talked to a man and got a statement," said Charles Cellucci, director of security for the Red Sox. "No arrest was made. We didn't have enough evidence at this point in time. It's under investigation."
Cellucci said he spoke with Sheffield in the Yankee clubhouse after the game.
"I came to him and asked him if he wanted to make a statement and he declined," Cellucci said. "Obviously, he can talk to Boston police at will."
Sheffield said he expected he will speak with police at some point, but said he was not concerned that his actions would precipitate a fine or suspension. He said he did not take a swing at the spectator, but was trying to disentangle himself from the spectator.
"It was hard," he said. "It's just a baseball game. You're trying to respect the game the right way. To get punched in the mouth, you don't expect that at a baseball game."
During the American League playoffs in 2003, criminal charges were brought against Yankee outfielder Karim Garcia and pitcher Jeff Nelson after a melee in the visitors' bullpen in Fenway Park involving a groundskeeper. The players ultimately pleaded no contest. The case was settled last October. The players underwent 50 hours of community service and anger management counseling.