Sheffield was fielding Jason Varitek's two-run triple along the low right-field fence in the eighth inning of the Boston 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 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.
"It could have been worse if I didn't hold my composure," Sheffield said. "I almost snapped, but I thought about the consequences."
The fan was ejected from the ballpark but not arrested.
"I guess there's always one idiot in the stands," New York captain Derek Jeter said.
"People here yell at you and throw things at you, all kinds of things all game long," center fielder Bernie Williams said. "But what that guy did was different, totally unexpected. It was dangerous and something should be done about it."
During the 2003 AL playoffs, two Yankees players were involved in a brawl with a Red Sox groundskeeper in New York's bullpen.
"We have two great teams and two great baseball cities and a lot of emotion," Boston manager Terry Francona said.
The near-fight between Sheffield and the Boston fan Thursday night was the latest problem between fans and players at a sporting event.
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 Texas Rangers was involved in a fight with fans in Oakland, and Rangers reliever Frank Francisco was arrested after throwing a chair into the stands that hit a woman and broke her nose.
And on Sept. 28, Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley was ejected after he slammed a plastic bottle down in the front row of the right-field seats after a fan threw the bottle onto the field. He was suspended for the rest of the regular season.
Edgar Renteria's RBI double in the eighth broke a 5-5 tie, and Boston took two of three from the Yankees to even the season series at three games apiece.
Randy Johnson gave up three homers for only the 12th time in his career, and Red Sox hitting coach Ron Jackson and Francona were ejected after questioning calls by plate umpire Greg Gibson.
Johnson left with the score 5-5 after seven innings and Tom Gordon (0-1) fell behind before getting an out. Johnny Damon led off the eighth with a single and scored on a double by Renteria, who had made the last out for St. Louis in Boston's sweep of last year's World Series.
"We have to give Sheffield a lot of credit," Damon said, "for him to restrain himself the way he did."
After an intentional walk to David Ortiz, Varitek hit a ball down the right-field line that hugged the curved wall and led to all the trouble.
Varitek's two-run triple gave the Red Sox an 8-5 lead.
Sheffield led off the ninth with a double off the Green Monster and the Yankees loaded the bases before Keith Foulke (1-1) ended the game by getting Ruben Sierra to foul out to catcher Varitek, who made a nice catch on a difficult play near the stands.
Renteria, Jay Payton and Varitek all homered in the first four innings off Johnson.
"I didn't settle in until after," said Johnson, who allowed five hits.
Hideki Matsui drove in three runs for the Yankees with a single and a double as the teams wrapped up a nine-game stretch in which they faced each other six times.
The last time Johnson allowed three homers was Aug. 15 against Atlanta.
New York took a 5-4 lead in a four-run fourth, when Bronson Arroyo issued three walks.
One of them led to the ejection of Jackson, who was upset after Gibson called a bases-loaded, 3-2 pitch to Sheffield a ball. Francona rushed out of the dugout to argue and Jackson, who followed, was restrained by several Boston coaches.
Matsui followed with a two-run single and Rodriguez put the Yankees ahead with an RBI single.
Varitek's third homer of the season tied it in the fourth. But with two outs and a 2-1 count on Bill Mueller, a pitch that appeared to be low and inside was called a strike by Gibson. That brought Francona out of the dugout again and he also was ejected.
Francona returned to the team Monday from a four-game absence after undergoing tests for tightness in his chest that team physician Dr. Thomas Gill said probably was caused by a viral illness.
- Arroyo allowed runners in scoring position in each of the first four innings.
- Johnson had at least one strikeout in each of his seven innings.