Brewers make it two straight wins
The stretched bullpen took another pull when closer Eric Gagne left the team to have his tight right shoulder evaluated in Milwaukee.
And the Milwaukee Brewers could still smell the wretched stench of the National League Central’s dank cellar, which the team had just clawed its way out of less than 24 hours before.
So Ben Sheets decided to grit out one of those performances that makes Brewers fans ponder what would have been if Sheets had been the model of good health during the previous three seasons.
His complete-game, 123-pitch outing Wednesday night came against the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the league’s worst-hitting teams along with the Brewers. It was still impressive, though, because Sheets didn’t have dominating stuff yet found a way to lead the Brewers to a 4-1 victory.
Sheets went nine innings, scattered 11 hits, walked nobody and struck out six and was still throwing 95 mph to his last batter. The only run Sheets allowed came on a high changeup that Xavier Nady hit out in the fourth.
“My back tightened up in about the fifth, but it went away,” Sheets said. “After that, I got back out there and I felt great. My arm felt great the whole time, and that’s a big plus because I threw a lot of pitches.”
This outing came after one in which Sheets was throwing well until he blew up in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up six runs and three home runs.
Sheets said he was embarrassed by that inning and that this start was his way of proving something to himself.
“My main goal was to get through seven to show myself I can do it,” Sheets said. “I was better tonight.”
Especially with runners on base. Sheets pitched around those 11 hits and used his defense liberally.
Mike Cameron, who botched a fly ball to center field in the third, made up for the mishap in the fifth when Nate McClouth hammered a ball to the wall. Cameron went back on it and made a leaping catch as he hit the wall.
Rickie Weeks added a few nice defensive plays, but the gem was a double play in the sixth. After Adam LaRoche led off with a single, Nady hit a ball up the middle with Weeks shading that way. But the ball was in front of the umpire, then took an ugly hop. Weeks had to field it near his ear before flipping to shortstop J.J. Hardy, who fired to first to complete the double play.
Sheets got another nice defensive play when Doug Mientkiewicz hit a high foul ball down the left-field line into foul territory. Ryan Braun slid as he ran toward the fence but carried himself too far and had to reach back to make a backhanded catch for the last out of the eighth.
“Yeah, that’s how I practice it,” Braun joked. “I thought I was closer to the wall, so I slid a little bit too early, and I just reacted and made a good play.”
Braun contributed offensively again, smoking a run-scoring triple into the alley in left-center to score Weeks. Braun later scored on a two-out single by Corey Hart.
Hardy also had a run-scoring single, and Weeks hit his sixth home run of the season in the sixth as the Brewers continued to come alive with the bats, totaling 11 hits.
Winning this series after an extremely rough patch during the last two weeks is a building block. And it might have been sparked by Braun questioning the team’s approach to winning after the Red Sox series.
“It’s huge, beyond huge,” Braun said of the two consecutive victories. “This gets us back headed in the right direction, right where we need to be.
“Everybody was in support of (what was said) and everybody was on the same page. We recognized where we were at and nobody was content with (it).”
Now the key is not being content with these two victories as the Brewers keep climbing away from the bottom of the standings. As their veteran ace noted, you have to continue winning for them to mean something.
“You got to add on,” Sheets said. “These two wins are nothing now because they’re done.”