"It's like a game I had against the Cardinals," Sheets continues. " Fernando Vi�a hits a home run to put them ahead big, and Jim Edmonds comes up and tries to bunt. He told one of our guys, 'Tell [ Lopes] I screwed up. I shouldn't have done that.' Didn't bother me. I don't care if he wants to bunt."
Milwaukee tied the game in the bottom of the seventh, when Lopes removed Sheets for a pinch hitter. The losing streak ended with a game-winning single by Mark Loret-ta in the ninth. Sheets threw 96 pitches.
"He pitched a helluva game," Lopes says. "The kid seems to rise to the occasion. You can't ask more from a rookie than to do the things he's done. He's been a godsend."
Lopes still has no clue how much Sheets is hurting. Sheets still cannot fully extend his arm on his delivery. "That makes it tough to throw a good curveball," he says. "I threw only 32 today. It was mostly all fastballs. In college I felt great every time I pitched. I had no idea what it was like to go out there hurting. But up here, you just do it. It's what you have to do."
Rock bottom. Five days after the Florida Marlins touched him for five runs in 6? innings, the Braves rip into Sheets as if it's batting practice. He is so off his game that Apodaca wonders about the pitcher's health. "Are you O.K.?" he asks.
"Sure, fine," Sheets lies.
Lopes leaves him in long enough to absorb a 10-run pounding in which he gives up 11 hits and two walks in 5? innings. Sheets throws 90 pitches. Apodaca tries again after the game.
"You sure you're O.K.?" he asks.
"Well," Sheets says, "my shoulder's a little stiff...."