Since ending a two-year retirement with an unexpected return to the Majors a little more than two weeks ago, Sheets has constructed one of the game's best feel-good stories this year. But after proving dominant in his first three starts, he might have been victimized by the law of averages as the Marlins notched five singles in their decisive three-run first inning.
"It stinks when you're riding a long winning streak," Sheets said. "In the first inning, I gave them the momentum right out of the gate, the momentum we earned over seven games."
Emilio Bonifacio got things started with a bunt single, and Carlos Lee plated the game's first run with a bloop single to right field. Sheets was then unable to secure Greg Dobbs' comebacker that could have led to an inning-ending double play.
Bryan Petersen's liner to right field accounted for the only hard-hit single in the inning. But by the time he had recorded his first three outs, Sheets had already allowed three times as many runs as he had in his previous three starts combined.
"I thought the first inning was the tough one," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We gave up four hits or five hits in the first. Couple balls, the one that Carlos Lee hit was a grenade behind first base. You can't really defend it anywhere, and that was an RBI. A couple balls got through the infield there. Other than that, he did a nice job."
Sheets regained control after the first inning and allowed four runs -- three earned -- while surrendering 11 hits in 6 2/3 innings. The result during this 104-pitch effort was different than the ones he had produced while allowing just one run in 18 innings over the first three starts of his comeback.
This marked the first time Sheets had pitched into the seventh inning and thrown at least 100 pitches since July 19, 2010 -- the final start he made before being forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. He spent most of the next two years assuming he would never pitch again.
"I think for him, going out there in the seventh was a big plus," Gonzalez said. "I think sitting down for seven innings and going out and getting over the 100-pitch mark was a good step forward."
After surrendering three straight RBI singles in the first inning, Sheets retired nine of the next 10 batters he faced. But the evening's misfortunes were extended in the fourth inning when he surrendered a two-out single to Scott Cousins, who entered the game hitting .161, and a double to Marlins starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc.
Cousins scored from first base on LeBlanc's double after Martin Prado fumbled the baseball along the left-field line.
"I don't know what happened today," Prado said. "I don't know what to say."
Prado went hitless in five at-bats and accounted for two of the three double-play groundouts produced by the Braves, who went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Marlins reliever Mike Dunn made things interesting when he issued consecutive two-out walks to load the bases in the seventh inning. But Freddie Freeman, who had recorded a hit in each of his three previous at-bats, ended the inning with a line drive that Cousins caught in right field.
LeBlanc spent this season's first three months with Triple-A New Orleans and had not thrown more than 31 pitches in a game since joining Miami's bullpen in July. But he had little trouble while limiting the Braves to one run and five hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Paul Janish continued to play impressive defense in place of the injured Andrelton Simmons, and he also accounted for the Braves' first run with a double that Petersen dropped while attempting to make a diving catch in the second inning. Dan Uggla plated the Braves' only other run with a two-out double in the sixth inning against Carlos Zambrano.
"We left [nine] runners on base and weren't very good with runners on base," Gonzalez said. "Even though we hit the ball hard, we hit it right at them."