07/04/2004 7:00 PM ET
Sheets, Kolb named to All-Star team
Pitchers took different routes to Midsummer Classic
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
|Ben Sheets was named to his third All-Star game on Sunday. (David J. Phillip/AP)
When Ben Sheets represented the Brewers at the 2001 All-Star Game in Seattle, he was a rookie who appeared to have a future as a Major League ace.
At the same time down in Texas, Dan Kolb was in the midst of a frustrating string of injuries that threatened his once-promising career. But then-Rangers GM Doug Melvin believed he still had a future as a Major League reliever.
For both players, the future is now.
Sheets, who has an 18-strikeout game and a near-perfect game under his belt this season, is going back to the Midsummer Classic. Kolb, who has not allowed an extra-base hit all season and has developed into one of the league's elite closers, is headed there for the first time. The 2004 All-Star Game is July 13 in Houston.
"It's always an honor," Sheets said. "This time it's probably a little better because after the first year you don't realize how big of an honor it is. You come in and
everything happens so quick, but now you understand it."
This marks the third straight year that the Brewers have had a pair of All-Star participants. Richie Sexson and Jose Hernandez represented the home team when the game was staged in Milwaukee in 2002, and Sexson and Geoff Jenkins were in uniform last season at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
"It says a lot for what direction we are going in," Sheets said. "In my first three years, we were towards the bottom [in pitching statistics], but this year the ballclub is pitching well."
Sheets, 7-5 this season with a 2.58 ERA in 16 starts, becomes just the third Brewers pitcher and the first starter to make multiple All-Star appearances. Closer Dan Plesac went to three straight from 1987-89 and Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers represented the Brewers twice, in '81 and '82.
Entering Sunday, Sheets' was tied for second in the NL with 113 strikeouts, and his 2.58 ERA was good for third in the league behind the Mets' Tom Glavine and the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano.
The right-hander has averaged 9.39 strikeouts per nine innings, fifth-most among NL starters, to go with just 17 walks in 108 1/3 total innings. His average of 1.41 walks per nine innings trailed only San Diego's Davis Wells (0.87 BB/9 IP).
In other words, Sheets is a bona fide ace in every area but wins. In fact, Sheets' seven wins does not even lead the Brewers in wins, as he is tied with right-hander Victor Santos behind Doug Davis' eight.
The Brewers have struggled to score in Sheets' starts, most dramatically in his June 8 outing at Angels Stadium in Anaheim. Sheets, who has never come close to a no-hitter at any level, was seven outs short of a perfect game when Vladimir Guerrero golfed a sinker between the shortstop and third baseman.
That was the only hit off Sheets through the end of the ninth, when the Brewers and Angels remained knotted in a scoreless tie. Milwaukee ended up winning the game, 1-0, in 17 innings though Sheets had nothing to show for it.
He had plenty to show for his May 16 win against the Braves at Miller Park. He struck out 18 Braves hitters that day, four more than Moose Haas' 26-year-old franchise record. Sheets became just the 14th pitcher in history to strike out at least 18 batters in a game, and two days later was named the NL Player of the Week.
Kolb has saved each of Sheets' last three victories and is 24-for-25 in save chances this year. He has a remarkable 0.87 ERA this season and has not allowed a run since his only blown save of the season, which came May 31 at Los Angeles.
"It's one of those things that really hasn't sunk in yet," Kolb said after learning of his selection. "I'm definitely happy to go. I know I couldn't go if not for the other 24 guys and the coaching staff we have here."
The All-Star nod caps an incredible transition for Kolb, who in one calendar year morphed from an oft-injured Rangers prospect into a flame-throwing comeback case for the Brewers last season to a ground-ball machine in 2004. Instead of firing at hitters with a 97-99 mph fastball, Kolb is working in the mid-90s this season with a split-fingered fastball to compliment his heat.
"There's been times where I thought my career was over," Kolb said. "I had Tommy John surgery and I tore my rotator. There's just three years where I just couldn't get healthy. It was one of those things where not only do you wonder if you will ever get back to the big leagues, you wonder if you are ever going to play again.
"To finally be healthy and finally be doing what
I'm doing, I don't think anyone appreciates [being selected] as much as I do."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.