The Brewers' ace exited after three innings with a strained right groin, and the Cubs jumped all over his replacement, scoring five unearned runs off Elmer Dessens with help from an error by sure-handed shortstop J.J. Hardy. Chicago cruised to a 9-3 win over first-place Milwaukee, snapped the Brewers' four-game winning streak and avoided a three-game sweep.
Combine the loss and the elements, and it was a bad day for the Brewers.
"I hate elements," said Sheets, who hails from warm-weather Louisiana. "But you have to play in them. I just wish we could have come out on top."
Cubs starter and winner Ted Lilly (2-2) made sure that did not happen. The lefty surrendered two runs, only one of them earned, on six hits over seven innings to avert what would have been Milwaukee's first three-game sweep at Wrigley Field in five years.
Sheets was not sure whether the cold, slick conditions contributed to his injury, and he wasn't even sure how he got hurt. He scattered four hits in three scoreless innings and was involved in a play at third base in the bottom of the third, when he tagged out Cubs infielder Ryan Theriot trying to advance on a wide throw by right fielder Corey Hart.
But Sheets said he was hurt when the next batter, Derrek Lee, hit an inning-ending fielder's choice grounder up the middle to Hardy. Sheets spun around to get a look and felt something "grab" at the top of his leg.
"I've never had a leg injury, but I don't think it seems too bad," he said. "It wasn't that it was excruciating by any means. ... But your body is telling you something. It's 'grabbing' for a reason. Probably protecting itself.
"I just don't want it to linger."
Sheets was replaced by right-hander Dessens (1-1) in the fourth, when the game got away. After a quick warm-up, Dessens issued a four-pitch walk to Aramis Ramirez to start the inning, and two batters later, Michael Barrett hit a potential double-play ball that short-hopped past Hardy and into center field.
"I slipped a little bit and I ended up getting an in-between hop," said Hardy, who has three errors this season. "I tried to attack it and it just went off my glove."
Before the inning was over, the Cubs scored five unearned runs off Dessens on four hits, including a two-run single by Theriot and a two-run double by Cliff Floyd. Both of those hits came with two outs.
"That's a two-fold deal," manager Ned Yost said. "J.J. should definitely make that play. And then when you don't make the play, you try to find ways to cover it up. We just didn't cover it."
Floyd and Lee finished with four hits apiece as the Cubs extended the lead against relievers Matt Wise and Chris Spurling, who was pitching despite a stiff back. Dessens conceded that it was difficult to get loose so fast in the cold conditions, "but that was no excuse."
"I've been too much in the middle of the strike zone," said Dessens, who has a 6.00 ERA in eight appearances with the Brewers, who traded for him in Spring Training. "I've been working with [bullpen coach Bill] Castro on mechanics. Hopefully the next time it will be better."
The Brewers answered against Lilly in the top of the fifth, getting an RBI single from Tony Graffanino and a run-scoring groundout from pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn Jr. to cut the deficit to 5-2. But the Cubs opened an 8-2 advantage before Rickie Weeks greeted reliever Michael Wuertz with a solo home run leading off the eighth.
"I tell you what. We hit a lot of balls on the nose," Yost said. "If the wind wasn't blowing straight in, that score would have been different. But Lilly pitched a nice game. There's something to coming out and understanding what the elements are and how to use them to your advantage. He definitely did that."
The Brewers did not.
"We hit a lot of fly balls, and when the wind is blowing in, that is not the way to play," Hardy said.