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Brewers have no answers vs. Cards

Brewers have no answers vs. Cards

ST. LOUIS -- Even wearing a different uniform number, Ben Sheets still could not beat the Cardinals.

Wearing No. 42 instead of his usual No. 15 as part of league-wide Jackie Robinson Day celebrations, Sheets was tagged for seven earned runs in five-plus innings. He suffered his sixth consecutive loss to the Cardinals dating back three seasons, a 10-2 Brewers setback at Busch Stadium.

Sheets (1-2) lost his second straight start and dropped to 4-14 lifetime against St. Louis, which managed to split the rain-shortened, two-game series with Milwaukee. The Brewers scored a pair of first-inning runs against Cardinals starter Braden Looper (2-1), who then worked five more scoreless frames for the win.

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"If you think I've only pitched four good games against them, I think you're stretching," Sheets said. "I've pitched better games than that record shows.

"Obviously, you want to win. That's the ultimate goal. But if you pitch well, what are you going to do? They've been a better team than us for four or five years in a row. It isn't like we've been the better team and I'm losing to somebody. For the most part, they've been the best team in our division and we've been in the bottom in my first couple years here."

He admitted he did not pitch well on Sunday. And more troubling to Sheets than his career record against the Cardinals -- he has not defeated them since his final start of the 2004 season, a complete-game performance in which he scattered eight hits and didn't allow an earned run -- is the way he has pitched in three starts this season.

Sheets has lost his last two starts but pitched a gem on Opening Day, a complete-game, two-hitter against the Dodgers. Even that one didn't feel good, said Sheets, who called his lack of strikeouts this year, "kind of startling."

"I haven't hit a spot all year," Sheets said. "I've struggled with my command in all three games -- if you look at the tape. I don't know why. I've got eight strikeouts in three games -- I don't know the last three-game stretch where I had eight strikeouts."

On Sunday, Sheets was charged with eight runs -- seven of them earned -- on eight hits, three walks and a hit batsman in five-plus innings. He struck out only two. The right-hander was just finishing his warmup tosses when Friday's game was rained out, so Sheets was working Sunday on seven days' rest.

Could that have affected Sheets' performance?

"That's a real nice excuse, but no," manager Ned Yost bristled. "I'm not going to use that, and Benny won't use it, either. He was just kind of fighting himself all day."

The windy conditions did not help Sheets, who could not get a feel for his curveball, or the defenders behind him. Prince Fielder and Johnny Estrada drove in a run apiece in the first inning, but St. Louis answered against Sheets in the bottom half. David Eckstein reached on an infield single off the glove of diving third baseman Tony Graffanino, and Chris Duncan, who set a career high with four hits, followed with a popup single that should have been caught by Graffanino, who was shaded toward second base. Shortstop J.J. Hardy was at second base, covering the bag because Eckstein was running on the pitch.

"It was right in the sun, and when it came out I realized I was nowhere near it," said Graffanino, who believed the ball was headed into the outfield. "I really thought it was going to be further out into left."

Formerly-slumping Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols followed with a go-ahead, three-run homer, part of a two-homer, five-RBI afternoon.

"You knew it was coming sooner or later," Yost said.

The Brewers were out-hit in the game, 13-7.

"This whole road trip, we have hit the ball over the outfielders' head with runners on, and they've made great plays five or six, seven times," Yost said. "Sooner or later, those balls are going to fall for us. Our kids are hitting the ball right on the nose."

Sheets' afternoon really got ugly in the sixth, when Yost was trying to squeeze one more inning out of his starter so he could pinch-hit for him in the seventh. Sheets walked free-swingers Preston Wilson and Yadier Molina around an Adam Kennedy single, then hit pinch-hitter Scott Spiezio in the left foot with a curveball to force in a run.

Reliever Matt Wise came on and surrendered only one hit while retiring the side, but three Cardinals runs scored. The hit belonged to Duncan, who set a career high with four hits in the game including a fifth-inning solo homer off Sheets.

"That sixth inning was a nightmare-inning," Sheets said. "It's been a nightmare-inning the last two times."

Any idea why?

"Who knows?" Sheets said quietly. "Sixth-inning jinx, I don't know."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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