MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Ben Sheets was humbled by his pitching last
season and on opening day this year.
He felt much better Saturday, after striking out a career-high
10 in six scoreless innings to lead the Milwaukee Brewers to a 6-1
victory over the Houston Astros.Sheets (1-0) has beaten the Astros seven straight times since
losing his first two decisions against them in 2001."I haven't been this excited for a long time, because I've
struggled for as long as I ever have in my career," Sheets said.
"Maybe it's partly because I've been embarrassed the way things
are going. It was a great day today."Jeff Bagwell, who had five RBI in Friday's 13-7 victory over
the Brewers to spoil their home opener, was impressed after
striking out twice and then doubling against Sheets."He was great today," Bagwell said. "It's the best I've ever
seen him. He's pitched some good games against us. He had an
overpowering fastball and curveball against us today."Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said Sheets provided the performance
he always expected would come."He had command of all his pitches today and that was
evident," Yost said. "He threw a fantastic game. He really
pitched great."Sheets, who was 11-13 last year and 0-3 in spring training,
lasted only 3 1-3 innings Monday in St. Louis. But he was locked in
a scoreless duel with Tim Redding (0-1) until the fifth, when the
Brewers rallied with two outs.Geoff Jenkins was nicked by a pitch and Lyle Overbay singled
before Wes Helms hit a three-run shot for his first home run of the
season and a 3-0 lead."I was very fortunate to get out of there with only three
runs," Redding said. "I didn't feel very good with the way I was
throwing. You battle and you battle and you battle for four
innings-plus and all of a sudden it's going to catch up to you. You
make one bad pitch."Sheets needed only five innings to equal his previous career
high of nine strikeouts. He faced only 22 batters, four over the
minimum. He allowed four hits, two by Brad Ausmus, and walked none
before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth,
when the Brewers made it 6-0 against Houston reliever Ricky Stone.Stone gave up run-scoring singles to Craig Counsell, Keith
Ginter and Overbay. The rally also included two intentional walks.The Astros averted a shutout in the eighth when Ausmus tripled
and scored on a sacrifice fly by Morgan Ensberg against reliever
Jeff Bennett.Redding, making his first start of season, kept the Brewers
scoreless by getting out of trouble in the second through fourth
innings, when the Brewers stranded seven runners.Before being shut down by the Brewers, the Astros scored 32 runs
in their first four games.The 10 strikeouts by Sheets marked the first time the Brewers
had someone in double digits since Aug. 31, 2001, when Jamey Wright
struck out 12 against Houston."I don't remember the last time I was focused like that,"
Sheets said. "Maybe the Astros and Cubs bring out the best in
me."Sheets is 6-2 against the Cubs in his career.
Houston placed LHP Andy Pettitte on the 15-day DL with a
strained left elbow. He was hurt checking his swing while batting
in his debut with the Astros on Tuesday against San Francisco. ...
RHP Brandon Backe, a reliever, was called up from Triple-A New
Orleans to replace Pettitte on the roster. Backe was acquired from
Tampa Bay in December for INF Geoff Blum. ... Houston RHP Roy
Oswalt, who starts Sunday, was 2-0 with a 5.63 ERA in five starts
against the Brewers in 2003. ... CF Craig Biggio, batting .667
(7-for-17), got the day off. ... The Brewers have 12 home runs in
their first six games.