When the Mets signed Gary Sheffield just before the start of the season, people didn't get too excited about it. Maybe he'd provide a few homers and a few walks off the bench, or maybe he'd get bent out of shape by not playing and get himself released before the All-Star Game. Either way, no one expected that he'd be sitting in the middle of the lineup every day and carrying the Mets lineup.
That's exactly what he's doing right now, though. Since Carlos Delgado played his last game on May 10th, Sheffield has hit .395 with four home runs, 14 runs scored and 12 RBI. And he's 7-15 with three of those homers in the last five games, when the whole team has fallen apart around him and made his production essential to the continued health of the Mets record.
Matthew Cerrone of Metsblog points out that "Gary Sheffield" chants have been breaking out at Citi Field of late, and wonders why Sheffield gets that kind of treatment while Carlos Beltran, who has been spectacular this season, hasn't been embraced by the fanbase. Beltran's relationship with Mets fans is an odd one, but the difference in reactions has more to do with the difference of expectations. Beltran is supposed to be leading the Mets, but Sheff's been a pleasant surprise.
Beyond that, though, there's the clouds of the last two Septembers. Beltran, great as he is, couldn't do anything to keep the Mets from failing when push came to shove. Now you've got Sheffield standing tall as the whole Mets team is crashing down around him. Obviously he's not the only guy getting the job done, but he's the one bashing homers and wagging his bat and capturing the hearts and minds of interested onlookers.
The psychological part of the Mets, right up to their bizarre handling of Jose Reyes' injury, is never easy to figure out, but Sheffield's popularity and importance isn't. He hits the ball, he hits it hard and he hits it deep, which is exactly what the Mets need him to do right now.