Brewers 1, Pirates 0
Sheets (8-7), who pitched his only complete game this season in his other start in Pittsburgh, gave up seven hits and struck out seven in his first start since July 11. He left that 6-1 loss to Cincinnati with tightness in his back, but reported no problems Saturday.
Neither did Danny Kolb, who came on to pitch the final two innings for his first save of the season and second of his career. Manager Ned Yost used Leo Estrella to close in the first game after the All-Star break on Thursday, but stayed with Kolb after watching him pitch the eighth.
“We were looking at the matchups,” Yost said. “He was throwing well, so we said let’s send him back out there with that 95- to 96-mph fastball. He threw it great.”
“I didn’t have any idea,” Kolb said when asked if he thought he might go two innings. “I was worried about getting through the eighth. I’m just trying to get comfortable in that situation.”
Sheets certainly looked at ease, avoiding the home run problems that have ruined some of his starts. The right-hander has allowed a major league-high 25 homers in 22 starts, including a three-run shot by Randall Simon that led to a 3-1 loss in a complete-game effort against the Pirates on April 10.
Sheets gave up seven singles, allowing the Pirates to put more than one runner on base in an inning only once. Jeff Reboulet and Matt Stairs singled in succession with two outs in the sixth, but Sheets got Simon to ground out on a changeup—a pitch he revamped three games ago by altering his grip.
Sheets was particularly effective against Brian Giles, who came into the game 11-for-19 with six extra-base hits against him. Giles struck out in all three at-bats against Sheets.
“He had everything working for him,” Giles said. “It was one of those nights we didn’t swing the bats.”
Pirates starter Jeff D’Amico (6-10) was nearly as effective as Sheets, but gave up doubles to Geoff Jenkins and Vander Wal in a span of three batters in the fourth. Vander Wal’s ball down the line struck the first-base bag and bounced over the head of first baseman Simon into right field.
D’Amico gave up nine hits and struck out four in seven innings.
“It’s good to keep the team in the game,” D’Amico said. “But I’m here to win games, not barely lose.”
The Brewers had a chance to build on their lead, but twice ran themselves out of possible runs.
Scott Podsednik singled to start the sixth, only to be thrown out easily by catcher Jason Kendall attempting to steal second. Jenkins followed with a double to right field that could have scored Podsednik had he stayed on first.
An inning later, Keith Osik singled and Royce Clayton doubled to put runners on second and third with one out. Manager Ned Yost put on the suicide squeeze with Sheets—an .093 hitter. The pitcher popped up to third baseman Reboulet on the first pitch, allowing the Pirates to turn a double play.
“Have you ever seen Ben Sheets bat?” Yost said, after answering several questions about why he bunted Sheets. “That’s about your only option there.”
That inning started when right fielder Stairs scrambled to make a sliding catch of Wes Helms’ low line drive, taking away a possible extra-base hit.
Reboulet took over at third when Aramis Ramirez was lifted in the sixth inning with a bruised left ankle. Ramirez, who fouled a ball off the ankle in the first inning, reported considerable swelling and may miss a couple of games.
Jenkins played despite being lifted during Friday night’s game with lower back stiffness. … Jenkins’ double in the sixth was a pop fly that fell out of second baseman Nunez’s glove behind first base and was interfered with by a fan before Nunez could pick the ball up. … Sheets is 6-2 in 11 road starts. … Kendall had two hits to extend his hitting streak to 21 games,third-longest among Pirates players this season.