Sheets shuts out Padres in epic duel
In first start since injury scare, Brewers starter is stellar
MILWAUKEE -- The sting Ben Sheets felt in his fingers was representative of how tough San Diego Padres starter Jake Peavy can be.
By the time the numbness subsided, Sheets showed that he had brought plenty to the table, too.
The Brewers right-hander overcame a minor injury scare to trump Peavy in a classic pitchers' duel, finishing off his third shutout of the season in a 1-0 victory on Saturday. Sheets allowed five hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in the gem of a complete-game outing.
"We've got a lot of starting pitching where we can sustain winning streaks and stop losing streaks," Sheets (13-7) said after his team won its second straight following four consecutive losses. "You go out there to try to get three outs before they come across the plate. I don't care who's pitching. It doesn't affect my job."
But Sheets vs. Peavy sure made for one of the night's premier pitching matchups, and it lived up to its billing. Three weeks after Peavy (9-10) clipped Sheets in a 3-2 Padres win in San Diego, the two met again at Miller Park before Milwaukee's 40th sellout crowd of the season.
The matchup was nearly derailed in the early going when Sheets grounded out weakly in the second, taking a slider off the end of the bat that caused numbness in his fingers. Sheets hunched in front of the pitcher's mound and needed extra time before opening the third.
"If you ever play baseball and get one of those real stingers in the fingers, it hurts so bad through your fingers that it makes you want to throw up," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "That's what happened. His hand was totally numb, and he had no feeling in his fingers."
The scare came one start after Sheets left early with groin tightness. But this time around, he remained in the game and needed just 93 pitches through eight innings before running into a jam in the ninth. Luis Rodriguez, who had three hits on the night, led off with an infield single, and Chase Headley lined a two-out single that put runners at the corners before Will Venable grounded out to end the game.
"The pitch count was down, and it enabled him to send him back out in the ninth inning and almost really win it or lose it," Yost said. "You're in a tough spot there, pitching-wise. You could send him out on a short leash, then you put your stopper in a bind. Then he's got no room for error, so it's almost like you're going to put him out there and allow it to happen, whatever's going to happen. I had Salomon [Torres] ready, and if they had tied the game up, I probably would have brought him in. I wasn't going to do that until that happened."
It was Sheets' fifth complete game of the year and his third shutout. Entering 2008, Sheets had just one complete-game shutout on his resume.
"[Check] how many times I've done it and figure it out," Sheets said, when asked how tough winning a 1-0 ballgame was.
Milwaukee's only run came in the third, when Prince Fielder lined a two-out double that scored Ryan Braun from first. Braun had reached on an infield squibber that Peavy fielded and threw low to first base.
"Any time you have a guy like that pitching, you know it's going to be a low-scoring game," Fielder said. "I'm just glad Ben was one run better tonight."
Matt Antonelli had a chance to nab Braun at the plate, but the throw was over the catcher's head, allowing Fielder to move to third on the error. Yost said third-base coach Dale Sveum would have sent the runner, no matter how close the play appeared to be.
"You've got a tough pitcher on the mound, and you might not get that opportunity again," Yost said. "We didn't."
In the fourth, Sheets was backed by a spectacular diving stop from Rickie Weeks, who ranged to his right for a well-struck ball and threw out Headley with the tying run on second base.
"That's the best play that I've ever seen Rickie make," Yost said. "That was a great, athletic play that's been years and years in the making. Rickie has worked really hard to get to the point where he can make that play. And if you see Rickie's reaction after that play, you know that he felt good about it."
Said Weeks, "It's just reaction. The first step [is big], of course. ... A lot of times, teams get down after [a losing streak], but with the team we have, I think we have a pretty resilient team, and we came back strong."
Peavy was nearly Sheets' equal, allowing five hits in seven innings with five strikeouts.
"Sheets was too good for us tonight," Peavy said. "He's as good as anybody in the game when he's on. He was dominating tonight."
The win was a milestone on two fronts. Sheets' 13th victory was a career high, a fairly low number reflective of the injury issues that have plagued Sheets since 2004. It was also the team's 82nd win, clinching back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1991-92.
"I'm not jumping up and down, but we did it in the first week of September, which is big," Yost said. "We were [excited] last year when we got 82. It came at a bad time. We had just gotten eliminated, but it meant something. We hadn't played .500 baseball in many, many years. Now, we've done it back-to-back years. But this wasn't one of our goals coming into the season."
As for the actual goals, the team remained four games behind Chicago in the National League Central after the Cubs snapped a six-game losing streak. Philadelphia fell to 4 1/2 back in the Wild Card standings after a rainout on Saturday, and St. Louis won to remain six games behind.
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.