07/14/2004 1:02 AM ET
Brewers All-Star duo trades places
Kolb works scoreless second, Sheets a perfect eighth
HOUSTON -- Dan Kolb pitching the second inning and Ben Sheets the eighth?
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
Who could have guessed it?
But there was Kolb, the Brewers' lights-out closer, on the mound in the second inning of Tuesday's All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park, called into early duty after the American League jumped all over Roger Clemens in the first.
And there was Sheets, the Major League ERA leader, in the eighth, facing former teammate Ron Belliard for the first out of a perfect, 1-2-3 inning.
"I've pitched late in both of 'em," said Sheets, who retired one batter in the eighth inning of the 2001 Midsummer Classic in Seattle. "I'm the setup guy! The eighth inning is mine!"
Kolb, meanwhile, was called on much earlier than he expected. Clemens surrendered six runs, three of them earned, on five hits including two home runs in what was supposed to be his last and most glorious All-Star appearance.
National League manager Jack McKeon was forced to find a replacement.
"The only bad part of it was we weren't prepared to substitute in the second inning," McKeon said. "We figured Roger might be able to go two. But after he threw 30-some odd pitches, I don't think it was advisable to let him go. And here was a youngster out here that could warm up quickly and had a chance to get him in the game rather than go with [Randy] Johnson, who maybe we didn't get enough time to warm up."
"It was kind of nice, actually, because I had to get ready so fast," said Kolb, who took 26 saves into the All-Star break. "I still had a lot of adrenaline and nerves going, but I think that made it better."
Kolb threw 14 pitches, seven of them strikes and all but two of them fastballs, and did his part to reverse momentum to the National League side with a scoreless inning of work.
He got Ichico to ground out to first baseman Albert Pujols with a 1-2 slider and got Vladimir Guerrero to pop to center field for the second out on a 2-0 slider.
Besides those two "out" pitches, it was all heat. Ivan Rodriguez fisted an opposite-field single with one out, but was stranded when Manny Ramirez ended the inning by grounding out to shortstop.
"I'm not going to forget it," Kolb said. "There was some adrenaline going that I've never had before."
The AL had a 9-4 lead when Sheets entered the game in the top of the eighth. He struck out Belliard with a curveball in the dirt, then induced groundouts by Victor Martinez, also of the Indians, and Home Run Derby champ Miguel Tejada of Baltimore.
He and Kolb were both disappointed to see Clemens struggle.
"That's tough," Sheets said. "You don't want him to struggle out there. But he's a big boy and he's going to pitch well for them in the second half. That's all he's worried about it."
Said Kolb: "There were a lot of things probably going through his mind than getting those guys out."
Before the game, Sheets reunited with Dodgers executive Tommy Lasorda, who managed Sheets on Team USA just before the right-hander began his professional career.
"Ben Sheets ... I love him," Lasorda said. "That's all I can tell you. He's one of the greatest."
But Lasorda is one of the world's most talented talkers, and he could not stop there.
"I can remember sitting down with him before he pitched against Cuba," Lasorda said, referring to Sheets' start in the gold medal game of the 2000 Summer Olympics. "I told him, 'Ben, you're going to go to Milwaukee and one day you're going to win 20 games. You might even win a Cy Young Award.
"'But tonight, Ben,'" Lasorda continued, "'you're going to pitch the biggest game of your life. You're going to pitch a game for your country. The United States of America! And when you win this game, all the people in the United States are going to be proud of you.'"
Then, Lasorda delivered the punch line.
"Ben looked at me and said, 'Who are we playing?'"
These days, opponents groan when they have to face Sheets. The first Brewers starting pitcher ever to repeat as an All-Star, Sheets has a league-best 2.26 ERA and he ranks fourth in the NL with 133 strikeouts.
Lasorda saw that potential.
"We used to walk every night after we ate dinner. Every night," Lasorda said. "We would walk around and talk about baseball. I would talk to him about pitching and what he could do in certain situations. We covered every phase of pitching every night. He's such a great kid and I'm so happy."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.