"It really probably won't hit me until I get to one or two [away]," Sheffield said after his 495th and 496th career homers powered the Tigers to a 14-8 win. "That's when you know you're close. Being four away, really, that's not close. You have to get to one or two and then you can say, 'Any day, it can happen.' Because on paper, you can hit two home runs in one game, but I've never hit three."
Sheffield's first homer since Labor Day came on a full-count fastball from Gonzalez, which Sheffield promptly sent out to left for his 15th home run on the season.
A second-inning rally brought Sheffield back up with the bases loaded and Gonzalez still in the game. Gonzalez fell behind before Sheffield blasted a 3-1 pitch an estimated 408 feet for his 13th career grand slam. It was also the 250,000th homer in Major League history.
"That's the type of home runs he's hit pretty much his whole career -- line drives, not real towering shots," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
That earned Sheffield his 37th career multihomer game -- all of them two-homer efforts. Asked if he was thinking about a three-homer game when he stepped to the plate the rest of the night, he smiled and answered, "That's why I've never hit it."
It fits with the image of Sheffield, who has been known more as an all-around hitter over the course of his career than a pure slugger. He has just two 40-homer seasons to his credit, in 1996 and 2000, but six other 30-homer years. Monday's homers gave him 41 since coming to Detroit in a trade from the Yankees after the 2006 season.
"I'm not a home run hitter," Sheffield said. "It's just that I've played for a long time, and that's the reason I'm here [closing in on 500]. I've never considered myself that. I'm always a guy that has hit for average. I hit my share of home runs, but I drive in a lot of runs."
Said Leyland: "I've thought of him as a great hitter who hit home runs. I never thought of him as a home run hitter who was a great hitter. Mark McGwire, you thought of home runs. He was an excellent hitter, too, but you thought of home runs. Gary Sheffield, I've never thought about that."
The trick now is for Sheffield to not think about home runs as he nears the mark the rest of the way. The Tigers have 18 games left this season for Sheffield to try to get four homers. He has 16 home runs this year, but 11 have come in 45 games since the All-Star break.
"I'm sure he's going to say he's not thinking about it," Leyland said, "but I think it's only human that he would be thinking about it. I think he swings better when he doesn't think about it."
Sheffield currently ranks 25th on the all-time big league home run list. His previous home run had pushed him past Fred McGriff and Lou Gehrig.