When Gary Sheffield showed up at Citi Field Thursday afternoon, he had more on his mind than finishing out the season in a Mets uniform. He wanted a guarantee for next year as well, according to a person familiar with the situation.
After hearing his request for an extension, the Mets scratched Sheffield from last night's lineup and discussed the matter with him in the manager's office.
Asked about scratching Sheffield, Jerry Manuel said only that the veteran slugger needed a day off "to clear his thoughts.''
"Gary spoke to me earlier today and said he needed to work out a few issues with himself,'' Manuel said after the Mets' 3-2 loss to the Braves. "I never got into it with him.''
After his meeting with Manuel, Sheffield, who has had a history of contract squabbles throughout his career, returned to his locker and dressed for the game, but that wasn't the end of the matter. After the Mets finished batting practice, Sheffield was nowhere to be found, and the word in the clubhouse was that he had been released. But that wasn't the case; he pinch hit in the eighth and struck out.
The Mets still have refused to grant an extension to Sheffield, who is batting .286 with a team-leading 10 home runs and 43 RBIs. Although the two sides still were at a standoff when the first pitch was thrown, Sheffield appeared on the bench, in uniform, for the game.
Johan Santana (13-9) gave up nine hits and three runs in seven innings, taking his first loss in his past five starts. He gave up two runs in the third inning, with former Met Ryan Church getting a run-scoring double. Brian McCann homered off Santana in the fourth inning.
After the game, Sheffield saw a group of reporters and bolted out the back door of the clubhouse.
Santana said he was unaware of the drama unfolding before he pitched.
"I don't know what's going on with Sheff,'' he said. "He's been a big part of what we've done so far, so hopefully they'll do what's best for him, but I don't really know what's going on.''
'The Mets placed Sheffield on waivers earlier this month, and after he was claimed, they pulled him back but were unable to work out a deal. At this point, Sheffield basically can't be traded, because once he is placed on irrevocable waivers, the Mets can't pull him back, meaning a team that claims Sheffield gets him for nothing. The other option is to release Sheffield outright, as Livan Hernandez was earlier yesterday.
The speculation surrounding Sheffield's status began in the clubhouse Thursday after his name, which appeared in the original lineup posted, was replaced by outfielder Cory Sullivan.
When asked about the sudden switch, Sheffield was cryptic while fielding reporters' questions.
"Because it's the best thing for the day," he said, explaining that his health was not the issue.
Sheffield's agent, Rufus Williams, did not respond to messages left on his cell phone.