Some six minutes passed in the sixth inning from the moment Gary Sheffield's bat redirected a pitch from John Lannan until the long fly ball was formally, officially and finally identified as a home run.
Distance was immaterial this time. Elapsed time and possible fan interference were the issues when Sheffield struck. Video replay was needed to determine the legitimacy of what appeared to be a three-run homer, to determine whether Sheffield had furnished John Maine with a 4-1 lead or merely teased the 41,103 people who had assembled to witness holiday baseball.
Ultimately, the long ball was approved and, eventually, a 4-1 lead morphed into a victory and a happy homecoming for a team that felt as though it had been on the road since January and played 73 straight games in gray uniforms.
Sheffield's fourth home run of the season, just over the diagonal slant of the wall in left field, was reviewed -- and reviewed -- by Larry Vanover's crew after third-base umpire Adrian Johnson gave the home run signal. Vanover declined to say what caused the extended delay, one that was about two minutes longer than the review of the homer-turned-foul ball Kevin Youkilis hit against the Mets at Fenway Park on Sunday.
"It did take a while," Sheffield said. "[Ramon] Castro told me the TV shot was inconclusive, so I figured they had to look at it over and over."
It may have been the longest play in Mets history -- longer than a Steve Trachsel pitch with runners on base, Castro's most recent inside-the-park double and even the descent of a Dave Kingman fly ball.
"It was a loooong time," Castro said. "I could have had my first triple."
Not that the Mets were opposed to waiting. Each of their last three games has included a review, and each review has produced a decision they found favorable. Omir Santos' decisive two-run homer on Saturday night prompted the first review.
"We're good at these," Sheffield said.
Sheffield sat in the dugout while the umpires conferred, leaving to return to the clubhouse to watch the proceedings on TV.
"But they just showed the two managers," Sheffield said. "They wanted to have the camera on the manager who was going to argue. They didn't show the replay, so I got kind of scared."
Maine, who emerged as the winning pitcher, left the dugout and threw in the cage once the umpires returned from their review. Johan Santana and Livan Hernandez practiced bunts during the six-minute interlude.
Said Jeremy Reed: "I don't know what I was doing. There wasn't much to do except wait. We were pretty sure it went out."
Players in the bullpen, accustomed to doing nothing for innings on end, had to create a new nothing, according to Sean Green. Necessity is the mother of invention.
"But we didn't come up with anything," Green said.
Manager Jerry Manuel weighed the potential effect of the extended wait on his starting pitcher, as he had hoped to have Maine (4-3) return for the seventh inning.
"We got the call, but the bad thing is, your pitcher sits," Manuel said.
Manuel's plan had been to have Maine pitch until he allowed a baserunner, but the six-minute wait was followed by a walk by Lannan (2-4), a pitching change, the Mets' fifth run -- driven in by Ramon Martinez -- and three outs. Maine was then removed for a pinch-hitter.
Maine departed having allowed four hits and three of the Mets' nine walks -- that figure equaled a season high -- and one run. With better command of his slider, he struck out four and threw 60 strikes among his 98 pitches. Nice ratio, nice performance.
The Mets have won five of his six most recent starts, and he four. And the loss in his preceding start would have been averted had he thrown one less home-run pitch.
Bobby Parnell, Pedro Feliciano, J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez (13th save in 13 chances) completed the game.
Parnell might have thought his time on the mound was longer than the video review. He allowed one hit, three walks and a run before being replaced by Feliciano. But Parnell usually throws strikes; no one was upset with his five-batter aberration.
Sheffield had provided enough margin for error, and he continues to serve as effective camouflage for the absence of Carlos Delgado. Sheffield has driven in seven runs in the last five games he has started, and he has driven in 10 and scored 16 in his last 15 games. Each of his home runs has either tied the score or provided a lead.
Timely hitting, to be sure. And this one, time-consuming as well.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less