MILWAUKEE (AP)—Ben Sheets’ stomach was in knots, and the Brewers ace figured members of his family were doing jumping jacks in the grandstands.
“Opening day,” Sheets said. “I’ve got a sumo wrestler wrestling in my belly. I was nervous.”
Then, Jeff Kent’s home run wiped away the nerves and emotion, and Sheets got down to the business of delivering one of the most dominant performances by a pitcher in recent opening-day history.
“Once he got me, I think that helped me kind of settle down,” Sheets said.
After Kent led off the second inning with a solo homer, Sheets regrouped to retire the next 22 batters he faced on his way to a two-hitter in the Milwaukee Brewers’ 7-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday.
So much for opening-day jitters.
It was the first opening-day complete game of two hits or fewer in 15 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The last to do it had been Tom Glavine with a two-hitter for Atlanta against Houston in 1992.
“Sheets was tough,” Dodgers manager Grady Little said. “We were thinking all through the game we’d be able to get to him if we got him into the stretch— but it never happened.”
The Brewers’ playoff hopes rest heavily on the shaky shoulders of Sheets (1-0), who has shown flashes of the ability to become an ace since his major league debut with Milwaukee in 2001 but has made only 39 starts in the past two seasons because of injuries.
“I’m happy finally, hopefully, that now I don’t have to continue answering questions about Ben Sheets’ health,” Brewers manager Ned Yost said. “I think we all saw it for ourselves today.”
Sheets, who threw his 12th complete game in 167 starts, says the shoulder problems that hounded him last year didn’t bother him at all in spring training. He still was throwing in the mid-90s in the seventh, according to scoreboard radar gun readouts.
Showing off his notoriously offbeat sense of humor, Sheets said he doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether he’ll be injured “tripping on a roller skate.”
“I kind of think it’s a non-issue, you know?” Sheets said.
The Brewers also were sharp on defense and patient at the plate, two areas where they struggled last season.
J.J. Hardy was 3-for-4 with an RBI in his return from season-ending ankle surgery last July. Bill Hall hit an opposite-field line drive home run to right in the sixth—and, making his debut as the Brewers’ regular center fielder, nearly robbed Kent of his home run.
“I told the kids after the game that this, quite literally, could be the best game that I’ve ever had the opportunity as a manager to watch a team play,” Yost said.
The Brewers didn’t hit Dodgers starter Derek Lowe hard, but Lowe struggled with his control and gave up six runs in four innings in the loss (0-1). Lowe said Brewers hitters were showing more patience than they had in the past.
“If I had a little better command, I probably could have given them a better fight,” Lowe said. “Overall, it’s one we all want to forget in an hour.”
Lowe didn’t help himself by giving up five walks, but he also didn’t get much help from two new Los Angeles outfielders. Juan Pierre and Luis Gonzalez were signed to provide veteran leadership to a team considered a World Series contender, but both misplayed balls in their Dodgers debut.
Milwaukee took a 2-1 lead in the second after Corey Hart lined a ball into center and advanced to second base when Pierre bobbled the ball—although Hart was credited with a double. Hart stole third and scored on Hardy’s single.
Milwaukee then broke open the game in the fourth thanks in part to a misplayed fly ball by Gonzalez. Geoff Jenkins then hit a high fly ball that Gonzalez lost track of near the wall. The ball bounced near the warning track, allowing Prince Fielder and Estrada to score and make it 6-1. Jenkins was credited with a double.
Gonzalez said the window panels in Miller Park’s roof can make fly balls an adventure during day games, but wasn’t overly concerned with one loss.
“We can’t panic after one,” Gonzalez said with a smile. “We’ve been doing this a long time. By no means is the pennant out of reach.”
Yost, meanwhile, was beaming about the way his team played and saw only one flaw in Sheets’ performance.
“Well, he struck out three times today,” Yost said.
Little said he switched some of the team’s signs for this series because former Dodgers reliever Elmer Dessens now pitches for Milwaukee. Dessens was traded for outfielder Brady Clark and cash March 26. … Clark took over for Andre Ethier in right field in the fifth inning. … Hall made a diving catch going to his left in center field in the third inning. … Little, no fan of opening day fanfare, said his players would try their best to enjoy pregame festivities. “I think there’s going to be a flyover,” Little deadpanned. Miller Park’s retractable roof was closed.