Brewers' defense, hitting comes through
Team backs up Sheets' strong effort with bats, gloves
MILWAUKEE -- Ben Sheets stole the spotlight, but he was not the only star of the Brewers' 7-1, Opening Day win over the Dodgers on Monday.
"I told the kids after the game that this, quite literally, could be the very best game that I've ever had the opportunity as a manager to watch a team play," Brewers skipper Ned Yost said.
And that says something, because after managing 1,068 games from the Minor Leagues through Monday, Yost is not a man prone to overstatement.
Sheets pitched a two-hit complete game but had plenty of help behind him, including 45,341 fans who made up the second-largest crowd in Miller Park's six-year history. By the end of the sixth inning, when Bill Hall hit the team's first 2007 home run, each of the top seven hitters in Milwaukee's lineup had a hit, six different players had scored, five different players had walked and five had driven in at least one run.
They flashed some glove behind Sheets, too. Hall, the new center fielder who was playing just his eighth big-league game in the outfield, nearly made a remarkable leaping catch to rob Jeff Kent's second-inning solo home run, and Hall laid out to rob Ramon Martinez of extra bases leading off the third. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, coming off an ankle injury, ranged up the middle in the fifth inning for Andre Ethier's ground ball, spun and threw to first to end the inning.
Even Sheets got in the act. He had to go down to get a feed from first baseman Prince Fielder in the second inning, and tapped the base with his glove to end that inning.
Hardy conceded that the defensive play of the afternoon belonged to Hall, who moved to center field this season so Hardy could return to shortstop. Hall mistimed his jump on Kent's home run, but made a perfect dive to rob Martinez the next inning.
"It was fun," Hall said. "There's been a lot of talk about our defense, especially mine. People don't know if I was going to make the transition, but I worked hard all Spring Training. I was there a lot of mornings way early, trying to get some work in. Me and Eddie [Sedar, the outfield coach] were attached at the hip.
"He told me it was my time, that he felt I was ready to go out and make plays. Once Game 1 started, I could go out and make highlight plays."
The Brewers set an early offensive tone against Derek Lowe. Rickie Weeks reached first on a swinging bunt, and Hardy followed with a broken-bat, bloop single to center field. Weeks wisely scooted to third base on the play, then scored on Hall's groundout to second base.
For Hardy, simply playing a regular season game was a milestone. He suffered an ankle injury last May 17 and eventually needed season-ending surgery.
"The nerves were high, the excitement was high, and in that first at-bat my knees were shaking," Hardy said. "I was just trying to see the ball and put it in play."
Said Hall: "It was a chance for us to get out to an early lead and put a little pressure on Lowe. I think the great at-bats we had throughout the game definitely wore on him, and he started making more and more mistakes as the game went on."
The Brewers outhit the Dodgers 10-2, coming off a Spring Training in which Milwaukee tied for third-best in the Majors with a .313 team batting average.
New hitting coach Jim Skaalen preached two-strike approach and patience all spring, traits he saw in his hitters on Monday.
"Amazingly so, under the circumstances," Skaalen said. "Everybody was amped up, and I expected the first time through the lineup that guys would be going a little hard and overswinging and trying to do too much."
Fielder was a bit guilty of that in the first inning, Skaalen said, but otherwise it was a very good day.
"I probably got goosebumps eight different times," Skaalen said.
Said Yost: "We worked really hard [in Spring Training] on our defense, worked on our baserunning, worked on our situational-type hitting. Every single one of those elements came into play for us today."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.