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03/31/08 9:55 PM ET

Sheets weathers rain in sparkling start

Two delays can't stop ace from mowing down Cubs

CHICAGO -- Had the rain fallen for 11 more minutes at Wrigley Field on Monday, Brewers starter Ben Sheets would have had a whole lot less to feel good about.

Sheets weathered a 41-minute rain delay before making his sixth career Opening Day start and then waited through a 49-minute delay in the third inning, but he still found a way to add to his list of successful debuts. So did the Brewers, who rallied in the 10th inning for a 4-3 win over the Cubs.

In 6 1/3 innings, Sheets allowed no runs and only two hits, both to Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome. Sheets worked a 1-2-3 first inning, stranded a runner at third base in the second inning and then struck out his Cubs counterpart, Carlos Zambrano, leading off the third before the rains returned.

Both starters waited it out. That was a particularly good thing for the Brewers, who would have been scrambling for pitching had the game been rescheduled for Tuesday's off-day. Milwaukee's Nos. 4 and 5 starters pitched Sunday in extended Spring Training to tune up for the regular season.

How long was manager Ned Yost willing to wait before he wouldn't send Sheets back to the mound?

"I was going to start thinking strongly about it at an hour," Yost said. "There's no real [underground batting] cage here, where he can get loose, play catch. He had heat packs on and went out and played catch a couple of times, but at the hour mark, I would have to seriously start looking at it.

"We never got there. He felt good, and I trust my pitchers."

Sheets gave Yost reason to continue that philosophy. The 29-year-old struck out Ryan Theriot and Alfonso Soriano to finish the third inning, then whiffed Derrek Lee leading off the fourth. In all, Sheets retired 12 of the first 13 hitters he faced after the delay.

"We noticed it right away," said Craig Counsell, who delivered a pinch-hit double in the 10th inning and then scored the winning run. "His fastball, he seemed to add a little bit to it after the rain delay. He just pounded the strike zone, and they were behind in the count all day, it seemed. That's Ben Sheets when he's really good. He's throwing strikes, working fast."

How did Sheets do it?

"I went in to work out and got a lot stronger," Sheets joked. "I don't know. I felt good from the get-go."

Sheets remained 3-0 in Opening Day starts and lowered his ERA to 2.45 in those six games. He's been Milwaukee's Opening Day choice in six of the last seven seasons, making way for Doug Davis in 2006, when Sheets was working back slowly from a major back injury.

In addition to the two hits, Sheets walked a pair of batters while striking out seven. He was happy with his work Monday with new Brewers catcher Jason Kendall.

"We were on the same page," Sheets said. "I probably shook him off two or three times, and every time I shook him off, I wish I hadn't."

Monday marked a solid start after another shaky spring. Sheets is making those a tradition.

"Maybe after Spring Training it all has to equal out," he said. "So it's my turn."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.