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06/26/07 12:30 AM ET
Sheets cruises past Astros for ninth win
Opportunistic offense backs right-hander's six strong innings
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- They have been urging fans to "Vote Prince" at Miller Park this week, and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder was tops among National League vote-getters at his position when the latest All-Star Game balloting update was released on Monday. Closer Francisco Cordero, the NL leader with 28 saves, is presumably a lock to join Fielder at the Midsummer Classic in San Francisco, and shortstop J.J. Hardy has also been mentioned as a strong Brewers candidate. But at what point does Brewers ace Ben Sheets enter the All-Star picture? "That ain't my choice," said Sheets, already a two-time All-Star at 28 years old. "I have two starts left before the break, and what happens, happens. I'm going to have a good time during the All-Star break either way, whether I'm at the game or not at the game." It is becoming increasingly easy to build a case that he should be at the game. Sheets needed 112 pitches to get through six innings on Monday and lacked his best stuff, but he was good enough to lead the Brewers to a 6-1 win over the Astros at Miller Park for Milwaukee's 10th win in its last 12 games. Sheets (9-3) has won five straight decisions and eight of his last nine, and he joined the Phillies' Cole Hamels, the Padres' Jake Peavy and the Dodgers' Brad Penny with his ninth win, though Penny picked up No. 10 as Sheets left the ballpark on Monday night. Sheets surrendered a sixth-inning solo home run to former teammate Carlos Lee, but otherwise allowed four harmless hits, walked three and struck out five. Sheets has surrendered only six runs in his five June starts, going 4-0 over that span with a 1.63 ERA. He has not been the strikeout machine he was in 2004, his second All-Star season, but he has been more than good enough to win. "I don't really care if it wasn't pretty," he said. With the way the Milwaukee offense has been churning, it did not have to be. Hardy and Fielder hit solo home runs -- Fielder's NL-best 27th -- as Milwaukee made the most of nine hits and maintained a 7 1/2-game lead in the NL Central over the second-place Cubs, who rallied for a dramatic win over Colorado on Monday. Brewers shortstop Hardy, who had played only three innings over the last week because of minor hip and back stiffness, returned to the lineup and homered in his first at-bat against Houston right-hander Jason Jennings (1-2). Fielder hit his home run off left-handed reliever Stephen Randolph. The Brewers manufactured their other runs. Craig Counsell led off the third inning with a single, stole second, took third on Sheets' sacrifice and scored on a Corey Hart single that extended the outfielder's hitting streak to 12 games. Hart then stole second, move to third on a Hardy groundout and scored on Ryan Braun's double. In the eighth, Bill Hall, Johnny Estrada and Geoff Jenkins hit consecutive doubles off Randolph after Fielder's leadoff homer, and pinch-hitter Tony Graffanino greeted reliever Dave Borkowski with a sacrifice fly. "I feel like we have a lot of guys contributing in a lot of different ways," Braun said. "Winning's always fun. As long as we're winning, we're going to have fun. And the big thing is that everyone is contributing." After Sheets exited with a 3-1 lead, relievers Carlos Villanueva, Derrick Turnbow and Chris Spurling closed it out. Turnbow and Spurling rebounded from forgettable outings against the Royals on Sunday, when Turnbow was booed off the Miller Park mound after losing the lead in the eighth inning and Spurling walked home the go-ahead run in the 11th. This time, the fans sitting behind the home dugout gave Turnbow a standing ovation. "There's always going to be the fans who are supportive no matter what, and those are the fans you really appreciate," Turnbow said, before joking, "Those are the people I like." Turnbow was an All-Star last season, and he and others have mentioned Sheets as a candidate to represent the Brewers this year. Fans can vote for the positional starters through 10:59 p.m. CT on Thursday night, but the pitchers and offensive reserves won't be known until Sunday night. "He should [get consideration]," manager Ned Yost said, pointing out that Sheets was in line for another win in Texas that was lost in the bullpen. "He could very easily be 10-3 right now."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.