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Sheets fires 18-K gem at Braves05/16/2004 8:28 PM ET
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- If Ben Sheets really is not a strikeout pitcher, as he sat there and insisted Sunday evening, he sure pulled off a good impression.
In one of the more dominant performances in the Majors this season, Sheets notched 18 strikeouts in a three hitter, leading the Brewers to a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves at Miller Park.
The last Major Leaguer to strike out at least 18 in a game was Arizona's Randy Johnson, who fanned 20 over nine innings of an 11-inning game on May 8, 2001.
With 20,654 fans roaring before every two-strike pitch, Sheets (4-2) struck out the side in the eighth and ninth innings to cap the fourth complete game of his career and help the Brewers (19-18) stay over .500 while avoiding a three-game Braves sweep.
"It kind of made me nervous," Sheets said of the vocal crowd support. "It was awesome. I was kind of emotional out there. I wanted to get it just as bad for them as I wanted to get it for me.
"I'm not a big strikeout guy, so this is all new for me. It's pretty cool, though."
The Brewers took a 3-0 lead against Braves starter Jaret Wright (2-4) in the first inning on Geoff Jenkins' sacrifice fly and Lyle Overbay's two-run double. Overbay raised his batting average to .369 with three hits, including his Major League-leading 21st double.
Brewers manager Ned Yost said he was so focused on finding ways to add some runs that he did not notice Sheets' march toward franchise history.
The stadium scoreboard crew opened Yost's eyes in the eighth inning. They flashed a graphic with the previous club record of 14 strikeouts, set by right-hander Moose Haas against the New York Yankees on April 12, 1978.
The previous Major League high this season was 13 strikeouts, set by the Cubs' Matt Clement against the New York Mets on April 25.
Sheets struck out eight of the final 11 hitters he faced to shatter both marks in just 116 total pitches, 91 strikes.
"Strike-zone efficiency is huge right there," Yost said. "I know he threw a lot of strikes.
"Some days you wake up with great stuff and some days you battle though with mediocre stuff," Yost said. "Today he woke up and had great stuff."
Brewers shortstop Craig Counsell, the Diamondbacks' third baseman on Johnson's 20-K day, agreed.
"I told Ben, 'You have the stuff to dominate,'" Counsell said, recalling a recent conversation. "It seems that with certain pitchers, that's what they want to go out and do. They're not satisfied throwing seven innings and giving up three runs. They want to dominate like Ben did today."
Added Overbay: "I think it's just a matter of him thinking that, and knowing that. He could throw that curveball every pitch and no one would hit it."
Sheets' strikeout high going into the season was nine, and he had whiffed 10 twice this season. Working almost exclusively with a fastball and curveball on Sunday, he hit double digits by the end of the fifth inning on 59 pitches including only 12 balls.
His fastball and curve were so sharp on Sunday that Sheets largely ignored his changeup.
"They couldn't pick up his breaking ball at all and he located his fastball, so he was ahead of them all day long," said catcher Chad Moeller, who caught as many as five 15-plus strikeout games by Johnson during his tenure in Arizona. "Ben was dominant. That was special."
"The way he was pitching he could have thrown a no-hitter," said center fielder Andruw Jones, who accounted for the Braves' only run with a seventh-inning solo home run. "When a guy is going like that, you just have to tip your hat and look forward to the next day."
With his first victory since April 20, Sheets improved to 3-0 in starts following a Brewers loss with a 1.55 ERA (five earned runs in 29 innings). He lowered his season ERA to 2.99.
He was aided Sunday by the long shadow that crept across home plate and later swallowed the pitcher's mound. Miller Park is considered hitter-friendly, but the shadows are tough on hitters during day games.
"I think once Benny saw that, he started pounding the strike zone even more," said Jenkins. "It was tough for hitters to square the ball up."
Wright pitched five scoreless innings following Milwaukee's three-run first, but took the loss for Atlanta.
The first three Brewers hitters reached before Jenkins put Milwaukee on the board with a sacrifice fly to left field. Overbay followed with a double over left fielder DeWayne Wise's head, scoring a pair of runs and extending Overbay's hitting streak to 17 games.
Sheets never surrendered the lead. Wise led off the game with a double but Sheets retired the next 15 Braves in order before he walked Nick Green in the sixth.
The Braves did not get their second hit until Jones pounded an 0-and-2 pitch over the center-field wall with two outs in the seventh.
Only six Braves hitters looked at first-pitch balls all day, and Sheets rebounded to strike five of them out.
"It's unbelievable that you can strike out so many people and keep your pitch count down," said pitching coach Mike Maddux. "It's a testament throwing the ball over the plate and making it happen."
How many times did Maddux strike out 18 hitters during his Major League career?
"I struck out 18 in a few weeks," Maddux joked. "A few months, maybe. I would say there were a few months I got 18 punchouts."
Sheets kept a game ball as a keepsake.
"I don't think I'll be doing that again," he said.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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