07/12/2004 6:40 PM ET
Kolb, Sheets happy in Houston
Flight complications send Brewers All-Stars scrambling
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Ben Sheets saved one of his best outings of the first half for last and Dan Kolb did the opposite, but both were smiling for the start of All-Star festivities on Monday.
|Dan Kolb's father saw him pitch for the first time in the Major Leagues on Sunday. (Morry Gash/AP)
Hey, just getting there was a plus.
A Houston-bound flight out of Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport was cancelled on Sunday night, after Kolb took the loss in a game against the Reds. So Sheets, his wife and young son, and Kolb and his father drove to Chicago to catch a flight to Houston, which got them on the ground just before 1 a.m. CT.
"Yesterday was the first day [my dad] saw me pitch in the big leagues," Kolb said. "It obviously wasn't the best day."
Kolb pitched the ninth inning of a tie game and surrendered three runs on three hits including home runs by Jason LaRue and Wily Mo Pena. The Brewers lost, 9-6.
The surprising slip boosted Kolb's ERA from 0.82 to 1.62 and it snapped one of the more remarkable streaks in baseball this season: Kolb had not allowed an extra-base hit in 35 previous appearances this season.
"This is a totally separate thing," Kolb said of his All-Star experience. "It's something I'm going to enjoy. I've been out on the field plenty of times during the last year and a half, but this is going to be different today. Yesterday is yesterday."
Some of the Reds' All-Stars were still talking about Sunday.
"That's amazing, man," Cincinnati closer Danny Graves said of Kolb's avoidance of extra bases. "That's kind of unheard of to go through this long of a season to not give up an extra-base hit. Not even a flare double? It's easy to give those up. It was definitely a great run for him."
Reds first baseman Sean Casey called it "ridiculous."
"The bottom line is that it's nice to see Dan Kolb here at the All-Star Game because he's got great stuff," Casey said. "He had it last year, too. He's flat-out nasty. I'm not surprised that no one got an extra-base hit off him."
Kolb's trip to Houston was far more complicated than Sunday's airport snafu. He was one of the Texas Rangers' more promising pitching prospects in the late 1990s, but a three-year run of elbow and shoulder injuries put his career in doubt.
In Milwaukee, he got a second chance. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who had connections to Kolb from Texas, offered a minor league deal prior to the 2003 season. By July, Kolb was the Brewers' everyday closer. A year later, he is 47 for 50 in save opportunities.
"I was lucky that I had [the injuries] when I was young," said Kolb, now 29 and a first-time All-Star. "Now I do all of my shoulder [workouts] all the time, all of my elbow stuff. ... You eliminate the fear by taking care of your body as soon as the season starts and during the season."
Or, at least you limit the fear factor.
"I don't think it ever goes away," Kolb said. "I have to go out there and go after it the way I always do and if I get hurt, it happens. I wouldn't say the fear is major or anything, I think it's in the back of your head. It's not in the front anymore."
Kolb is a big part of the Brewers' surprising success this season as is Sheets, who at 25 years old has evolved into one of the National League's most dominant starters.
Sheets is the first Brewers starting pitcher ever to repeat as an All-Star and Sheets and Kolb combine for the first pair of Brewers pitchers ever to be invited to the same All-Star Game. Only one Brewers pitcher has ever earned an All-Star decision; Rollie Fingers took a loss in the 1981 Midsummer Classic (and is the only Brewers pitcher ever to give up any runs).
Sheets' eight shutout innings in Saturday's 5-0 Brewers win lowered his ERA to a league-best 2.26 and he ranks fourth with 133 strikeouts.
"There's a little Nolan Ryan there with his curveball," said former teammate and current Padres All-Star Mark Loretta. "Ben has one of the, if not the, best curveball in baseball. The classic 12-to-6 curve."
In other words, the Brewers finally have their ace. Sheets is 9-5 this season in 18 starts, including an 18-strikeout game in May and a near-perfect game in June.
"I don't know if [my career] was up and down because I didn't really dominate any games," said Sheets, who was a rookie All-Star in 2001 and has won 11 games in all three of his big-league seasons.
"It was just kind of average the last two years. Most of my games were like six or seven innings, giving up three or four [runs]. It was never the seven scoreless."
Sheets is more interested in talking about the Brewers' team success. Despite losing three of four to the Reds to close out the first half, the Brewers are 45-41, 2 1/2 games behind San Francisco in the early NL Wild Card race.
"One through 25 we have a better team, and that's the big thing," Sheets said. "You can be top-heavy, you have to be good all the way down."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.