'That's it' for Sheets after gutsy start

'That's it' for Sheets after gutsy start

MILWAUKEE -- In the moments after Saturday's 7-3 loss to the Cubs, with free agency looming and his right elbow aching, the longest-tenured Brewer was not quite ready to ponder whether he had thrown his final pitch for the only franchise he has known.

Ask again Sunday, Ben Sheets begged. He did concede that, "It's the reality, probably."

One thing Sheets did know: Even if the Brewers wiggle their way into the playoffs, he has thrown his final pitch in 2008.

"That's it," Sheets said. "That's all I have. I've got a broke arm."

It's not quite broken, but it is certainly damaged. Sheets had been pitching with pain in his right elbow since Aug. 24 in St. Louis, and he finally revealed the injury on Sept. 17 in Chicago after exiting a start after two innings.

It appeared all week that Dave Bush would start for the Brewers on Saturday, a game they entered with a one-game lead over the Mets in the chase for the National League Wild Card. Sheets, though, said he could go.

As he would say later, "It didn't work out."

"I felt pretty good at the beginning, not great," Sheets said. "That didn't last long. I think in the third inning, it jumped on me pretty good."

Cubs outfielder Daryle Ward, a late addition to a Chicago lineup stacked with subs, hit a bad fastball for a two-run home run in the first inning, when Sheets still felt relatively well. By the third inning, Sheets was hurting, and after an error by Bill Hall spotted the Cubs a baserunner to open the inning, Sheets walked two batters and surrendered a two-run single to Mike Fontenot that prompted interim manager Dale Sveum to tap the bullpen.

It should have been obvious to the 45,288 fans in the stands, Sheets said, that something was not right.

"If you've ever seen me pitch, you know I wasn't able to cut loose," he said.

Sheets pitched in a Brewers uniform for the 221st time on Saturday. He is a free agent at season's end, and given his high price tag and his checkered medical history, the odds of a return to Milwaukee appear extremely slim.


"He threw his heart out there."
-- Brewers catcher
Jason Kendall
on Ben Sheets

When he was healthy, Sheets was one of the best pitchers in Brewers history. He went 86-83 over eight seasons with a 3.72 ERA, tied with Lary Sorensen for the fifth-lowest ERA in franchise history. Earlier this season, he became the Brewers' all-time strikeout leader, and one more on Saturday made it 1,206 for his career.

Many fans will remember the injuries, and there have been a lot of them. Sheets has made six different trips to the disabled list, though he avoided it this season, with shoulder, back, finger and inner-ear issues. He was on the way to a fourth consecutive seasons of at least 30 starts and 200 innings in 2005 when he tore the latissimus dorsi muscle behind his right shoulder, an injury that ended his season and affected him through most of '06.

Last September, Sheets missed his final start because of a strained hamstring. Was he glad he gave it a try this time?

"Nope," he said. "Because it didn't work out well."

He thought about the question further.

"I'm kind of torn in-between on that one," Sheets said. "If they would have hit balls right at people, it would have been a great job. But I put us down, 4-0, in the third inning. Why would I have done that had I known? I really thought in my mind I could go in there and get us through five or six quality innings."

Brewers catcher Jason Kendall knew his pitcher toed the rubber on guts alone.

"He threw his heart out there," Kendall said. "He needs rest. Everybody in this clubhouse appreciates his effort."

Sveum was asked if he would count on Sheets for a postseason series, assuming it gets that far. His answer was telling.

"I don't know," Sveum said. "I'll have to deal with that in the next couple of days."

Judging by Sheets' comments, the Brewers can count him out.

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