Sheets has won Lopes over. That is evident in the second inning against the Indians, who brought an American League-best .297 team batting average into the game. They tag Sheets for three runs on six hits and a walk in the second and, with slugger Juan Gonzalez at the plate and the bases loaded, are one hit from blowing open the game. Sheets has mediocre stuff this night, yet Lopes has no one warming up in the bullpen. "We've got to let him work through the rough spots," Lopes says later. "Plus, I know what his makeup is."
Sheets leans on an old friend: his curve. He throws three in a row to Gonzalez, the last of which Gonzalez grounds to third base for the third out. "The amazing thing is he's always very cool," Geoff Jenkins says. "He never gets rattled. Our young guys should watch him. Heck, our old guys should too."
After the game Sheets recounts the situation excitedly. It is an indication of how much the effort meant to the normally placid pitcher. "They've got three runs in, the bases juiced and I'm staring down the pipe at Juan Gonzalez. Wow!" Sheets says. "It's a great lineup. You never have time to take a breath. I had no command of my curveball and no command of my fastball. All I'm trying to do is find a comfort level.
"I follow great pitchers, and if you're going to get to them, you'd better get to them early because they're going to find their comfort level. If they don't find it in the bullpen warming up, they'll find it in the first couple of innings, and if you don't get to them early, you probably won't later. That's all I was trying to do."
The Brewers came back and won the game for Sheets, 9-4. He hung on for six innings, though he threw first-pitch strikes to only 11 of 26 batters and made the Indians swing and miss at only three of his 96 pitches. "Of the stuff Ben has taken out to the mound, on a scale of one to 10, that was probably a two," Lopes says. "But the bottom line is he found a way to win. That's been his label. I know he's only had a short career, but his reputation speaks for itself. If you're going to be a great pitcher, you have to find a way to win when you don't have great stuff. He did. Every time you see him, you see something a little different.
"Everybody had been saying good things about him to me," Lopes adds. "[Olympic manager] Tommy Lasorda, [ USA Baseball's] Rod Dedeaux, [Olympic coach] Reggie Smith. They kept saying, 'Wait, just you wait.' I was kind of skeptical. But I'm seeing it."
It is 2 a.m. The telephone rings in Sheets's hotel room. "Hello," the caller says. "I was wondering if you could come down to the lobby to sign an autograph."
Sheets is in town because he's an All-Star, the Brewers' only representative. He is on some roll. One of the first things he did when he arrived home after winning the gold medal was to play golf. A TV crew showed up to get footage of the local hero. With cameras rolling, Sheets knocked in a hole in one. "I've got to be the luckiest person in the world," he says. "Look at the last year—the Olympics, the All-Star Game.... I don't know. Just lucky."
Sheets earned a trip to Seattle with a 10-5 record and 3.59 ERA. As he groggily returns the phone to its cradle, however, it is clear that he has committed another rookie mistake. He did not use an alias when he checked into the hotel. "Nah, I'm not going to big league anybody," he says.