Sheets helps Braves continue mastery of Phils

Sheets helps Braves continue mastery of Phils

Sheets helps Braves continue mastery of Phils
PHILADELPHIA -- When the Braves last won at least seven consecutive games against the Phillies, their starting rotation included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Now their rotation includes Ben Sheets, who like Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, spent most of the past two years under the assumption that he was retired.

Fortunately for the Braves, Sheets was willing to halt his days as a Little League coach and attempt to resurrect a successful career that had been derailed by numerous arm injuries.

With Sheets adding to the wonder and success of his unexpected comeback, the Braves provided all of the necessary support with a three-run third inning and extended their recent mastery of the Phillies with a 6-1 win on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park.

"Thank God I didn't have to dominate with a strikeout, I didn't have one," Sheets said. "Getting 'em out is just as much fun. It's still a very tough lineup over there."

This marked just the second time Sheets has completed at least five innings without recording a strikeout. But the rejuvenated 34-year-old right-hander still proved quite efficient while limiting the Phillies to just one run and seven hits in 7 1/3 innings. His 92-pitch effort took him into the eighth inning for the first time since July 5, 2010.

"He can attack you in many ways. It's not just fastball, curveball," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He can sink you down and away. He can throw his slider in there. He can mix in a changeup. When you have two devastating pitches, you have to respect them both. He can get easy outs on his first-pitch changeup."

For the Braves, this marked the first time since Aug. 15, 1995, that their pitching staff did not record a strikeout. But the result proved quite familiar.

The Braves have won 11 of their last 13 games and each of the past seven played against the Phillies. This marks the first time they have notched this kind of winning streak against Philadelphia since winning nine straight from Aug. 15, 1996, to July 14, 1997.

This also marked the second straight victory the Braves have recorded while wearing their socks up during Monday games. Before these two wins, they had lost each of the first 12 games played on Monday this year.

Freddie Freeman highlighted the decisive three-run third inning with a two-run double. But Sheets' top supporter might have been Jason Heyward, who ran down Brian Schneider's drive to the right-center-field gap to strand two runners in the second inning. Heyward also hit his 18th homer in the ninth inning and scored from first base on a two-out seventh-inning single that Nate Schierholtz fumbled in right field.

"You definitely want to keep rolling," Sheets said. "If we can grab some momentum for the day, I think it's good. So I try to keep them off the scoreboard early and in the middle and late."

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to remove Sheets after Jimmy Rollins singled and advanced to second base with one out in the eighth inning. Eric O'Flaherty killed that scoring threat by recording two quick outs against Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

"We were going hitter to hitter," Gonzalez said. "We were trying to push him, but again, this is only his fifth start in two years. We don't want him getting too taxed. The start before he had thrown a little more than 100 pitches. He was on normal rest this time around, and we were just going to keep an eye on him."

Sheets missed the 2009 season while recovering from right elbow surgery and then made 20 starts in 2010 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. For most of the past two years, the assumption was that he would never pitch again.

But since signing a Minor League contract in early July, Sheets has exceeded expectations. He has allowed one or no runs in four of the five Major League starts he has made since the All-Star break. As a result, a little less than a month into his comeback, he owns an impressive 1.41 ERA.

The only run Sheets surrendered came courtesy of John Mayberry Jr.'s leadoff home run in the fourth inning.

With his pitch count at 86 through the first seven innings, Sheets avoided thinking about pitching into the ninth or going the distance. In his previous start, he had worked into the seventh for the first time in two years.

"Maybe, I'll get in the 11th or 12th [inning soon]," Sheets joked.

Nearly a month into a comeback that few could have expected, Sheets finds himself relaxed and content with the opportunity to pitch again. Somewhere down the road, he might allow himself to think about complete games and other accomplishments from his past.

"I'm worried about that next pitch to tell you the truth, or that next batter," Sheets said. "I think there was a time when I was looking past that, but really and truly, at this stage, it's just one batter at a time."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.