Sheets masters Cardinals in 12-0 win
Sheets worked six scoreless innings in a 12-0 victory Tuesday night that provided some breathing room for the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL wild card race.
"They've been tough on me," Sheets said. "For a lot of years they were the better team, especially early in my career. We're as good as them, if not better."
Ryan Braun was 3-for-5 with a two-run homer and Prince Fielder had three hits and two RBIs for the Brewers, who have won seven straight over the Cardinals and are 10-4 overall heading into the season series finale on Wednesday. Craig Counsell doubled twice and had three hits as the Brewers (77-55) moved 22 games above .500 for the first time since they were 92-70 at the end of the 1992 season.
"I think playing in this environment, this atmosphere, against these guys and the Cubs, we enjoy these games," Braun said. "It's what you play the game for."
The Brewers moved 4½ games ahead of the Cardinals for the wild card berth and remained five games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. Their margin of victory was the franchise's best against the Cardinals, and it was the Cardinals' most lopsided since a 13-0 pasting by the Astros on May 5, 2007.
Losing pitcher Todd Wellemeyer believes Wednesday's game is a must for the Cardinals, saying "We don't want to be 5½ out going into September."
Manager Tony La Russa had a more measured response.
"They're in better shape they we are, but I've also said that this series in August isn't going to determine who plays in October," La Russa said. "But we need the series more than they do."
Sheets (12-7) beat the Cardinals for only the sixth time in 20 career decisions, allowing five hits and retiring his final eight hitters. He beat them for the first time overall since May 1, 2007, and first time on the road since Oct. 2, 2004, although he's 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA against St. Louis in three starts this season.
Sheets' only trouble all night was missing a squeeze bunt sign in the sixth, and fouling off a pitch with Counsell running hard from third. He's batting .083 (5-for-60) with 22 strikeouts, so manager Ned Yost preferred to concentrate on the positives from that at-bat.
"Benny's capabilities have quadrupled over this year," he said. "In years past he wouldn't have sniffed that ball, so yeah, he's making real progress fouling them off."
Braun is batting .491 with seven homers and 13 RBIs against the Cardinals this season and is a .434 career hitter against St. Louis. He is 6-for-8 against Wellemeyer (11-5).
"You look at his numbers, they're astronomical for a kid who's been in the league a year-and-a-half," Yost said. "He's a superstar type of player."
Albert Pujols of the Cardinals was 0-for-3 with a walk, his average dipping to .356, to end an eight-game hitting streak in which he batted .563 (18-for-32) with three homers. He was one point behind Chipper Jones, who went 1-for-5 for Atlanta, in the race for the batting title.
Despite the wild card implications, the announced attendance of 41,121 was about 3,000 shy of capacity. This after the Cardinals had offered half-price tickets to stlcardinals.com subscribers and free tickets to season ticket-holders with $1 face value in an attempt to paper the house.
The Cardinals stranded two runners in the first, third and fourth. They squandered their best chance in the third with runners on first and third and one out when Pujols popped out to shallow left and Rick Ankiel hit a broken-bat infield pop.
Three of the first four hitters singled against Wellemeyer, including Fielder's opposite-field flare that put the Brewers ahead. J.J. Hardy tripled to lead off the third and scored on Fielder's one-out groundout to make it 2-0.
Pujols' two-out throwing error at first base allowed another run to score in the fifth.
Wellemeyer came out for the seventh despite throwing 101 pitches and departed after a single by Hardy and Braun's 33rd homer made it 5-0. La Russa pointed out that Wellemeyer got an extra day of rest and the weather was cooler, but the pitcher admitted to some fatigue.
"If you're trying to throw it on the right side of the plate, it means my elbow dropped a little bit," he said. "So, I was probably a little tired."
The first six Brewers reached in a seven-run ninth highlighted by Jason Kendall's three-run double and a two-run homer by pinch-hitter Bill Hall.