- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

NEW YORK | Had Gary Sheffield’s three-run homer in the sixth inning Monday night been taken off the board — the outcome the Washington Nationals would have preferred — the New York Mets still would have taken the lead and perhaps gone on to win.

There’s no way, of course, to know for sure. So forgive the Nationals if they feel like they came to the Big Apple and got mugged during a 5-2 loss that turned on a controversial play.

As far as the Nationals were concerned, Sheffield’s tiebreaking homer should have been ruled a double. That would have put the Mets ahead by only one run.

Instead, the deficit was suddenly three runs, and that was too much for Washington to overcome en route to its 13th loss in 16 games.

There was plenty else at play on Memorial Day at Citi Field, from the Nationals’ continued (and surprising) offensive struggles to Daniel Cabrera’s continued (and not surprising) struggles finding the strike zone to Austin Kearns’ continued struggles driving in runs.

But the key moment was Sheffield’s questionable homer, which came with two men on, the score tied 1-1 and Nationals starter John Lannan beginning to show signs of faltering. Sheffield seized the opportunity by crushing the lefty’s first pitch to deep left field. Adam Dunn retreated to the wall and watched as the ball bounced off a fan’s hands and back onto the field.

Third-base umpire Adrian Johnson immediately ruled it a home run. But within seconds, Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman gestured toward the dugout, signaling he thought the fan interfered with the ball.

Manager Manny Acta rose from the dugout to argue, and after a brief conference, three of the four umpires retreated under the stands to watch a video replay.

For six minutes, everyone waited for the three men to emerge back on the field. The lengthy delay might have been owed to the fact that the only angle caught by the Mets’ SNY television crew did not have a close-up view of the play. If the umpires couldn’t get a conclusive look at the ball, they had to stick with their original call.

Viewers in the D.C. area watching on MASN saw a better shot of the play, in which it appeared more obvious that the fan reached over the fence and interfered with the ball.

Either way, once crew chief Larry Vanover signaled home run, everything came spiraling down for Washington. Lannan walked the next batter and was pulled. The Mets scored another run to make it 5-1. And the Nationals were left to try to rally from a deficit far greater than they believed should have been posted on the scoreboard.

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