"That's the first thing that came to my mind," Sheffield said. "Don't react. So that's what I did."
Of course, Sheffield was referring to the Indiana Pacers forward who was suspended for the majority of the 2004-05 NBA season after going into the stands to fight with a fan at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Nov. 19, 2004. Sheffield took a swipe at the fan who had just hit him, then turned around and fired the ball back to the infield. Words were exchanged, security jumped in and helped settle the situation down to a low boil.
"I was trying to get his hand out of my face so I could continue with the play. I threw the ball in and was getting ready to react, but I held my composure," Sheffield said. "It was hard. It's just a baseball game, so I'm trying to represent the game the right way. To get punched in the mouth, you don't expect that at a baseball game."
"I think that was the best thing he could have done," said Bernie Williams. "He showed a lot of class and was able to maintain his composure. Hopefully that guy will get what he deserves, because there's no reason for that to happen."
Red Sox spokesman Glenn Geffner said that the fan, whose name was not released, was removed from the ballpark.
"He was ejected from the ballpark for attempting to interfere with the ball in play, which is consistent with Red Sox policy," Geffner said. "He was not arrested. There have been no charges filed at this time, pending interviews that will be done and the review of video."
"These people shouldn't be allowed to walk the streets, let alone come to a ballgame," said Yankees manager Joe Torre of the fan. "The sad part is that it's a handful of people that screw it up for the people that just came to watch a ballgame."
"It's a disgrace, in my opinion," Williams said. "They talk a lot about players going into the stands and people making examples out of them, but I think they should make an example out of this guy."
Sheffield, who also had beer spilled on him, said that he didn't make any contact with the fan during the incident. The outfielder was not interviewed by Boston police or ballpark security, though he said that he was told he may be interviewed about the incident in the future.
The fan appeared to be reaching over the wall, possibly in an attempt to pick up the ball. But Sheffield pointed out that the ball wasn't bouncing, and as it rolled at the foot of the wall, the fans in the stands couldn't have seen where it was from their vantage point.
"I'm reaching to get the ball and continue with the play," Sheffield said. "Those were crucial runs out there. I continued to get the ball and that's when I felt something hit me in the mouth. I don't know if he punched me or not, but it felt like it. I thought my lip was busted."
The game was halted for a few minutes while the situation was sorted out. Several Yankees players and coaches ran out to right field to settle Sheffield down and assess the situation, and players from both teams complimented Sheffield on his reaction after being hit.
"I can understand why Sheffield might have thought the guy was taking a swing at him," said Johnny Damon. "I thought Sheffield did a great job of restraining himself. He was definitely upset about what happened, but I thought he did a great job at holding back."
"There's always one idiot in the stands," said Derek Jeter. "It could have been a lot uglier than it was. To his credit, he pretty much stayed away from it."
Thursday's incident was the latest in a Yankees-Red Sox saga which has seen its share in the past few years. In October 2003, Jeff Nelson and Karim Garcia were involved with an altercation in the bullpen with a Fenway groundskeeper. Last season, the two teams had a bench-clearing incident on July 24, though no fans were involved.
"No matter how you look at it, if you go in the stands, you're never going to win," Williams said. "You have a guy trying to field the ball and make a play and a guy comes out of nowhere and takes a shot at him, there's no place for that in this game."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.