Just when it looked like Ben Sheets had recovered from a second-inning Dodgers home run barrage Saturday, the Braves pitcher got whacked again by Hanley Ramirez in the sixth.
Folks, the Sheets comeback story has hit a rough patch.
Ramirez hit one of three consecutive homers in the second inning and added a three-run bullet of a homer in the sixth during a 6-1 Dodgers win in the Civil Rights Game at Turner Field, snapping the Braves’ four-game winning streak and handing Sheets his third loss in four starts.
Sheets (4-3) was charged with six runs and four hits, none of which landed in front of the fences.
“The difference in a good game and a bad game is that last Hanley Ramirez at-bat,” said Sheets, who walked two and struck out three. “If it’s a good one you make a pitch and get out of it. A bad one he hits it into the seats.”
Ramirez hit it in the seats. Quickly. Sheets had allowed three homers six times in 247 career starts, but never served up four until Saturday.
The Braves lost for only the sixth time in 24 games and remained four games behind National League East leader Washington, which lost 2-0 to the New York Mets.
“We had some opportunities almost the entire game,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and twice struck out with bases loaded to end innings. “It’s a weird game. Four hits, four home runs and six runs [for the Dodgers], and we left 11 stranded. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that kind of boxscore, really.
“Sheetsy gave up those three runs early in the second inning, then he kind of settled in… Then all of a sudden after two outs he gives up another three-run homer. Other than that — and we didn’t score — what are you going to do? It was just a weird game.”
Martin Prado drove in both Braves runs with a double in the first inning and a home run in the ninth. David Ross struck out with bases loaded to end the first inning, and Juan Francisco struck out with bases loaded to end the eighth.
“We didn’t capitalize on some key points there in the first inning, that punch-out from me,” Ross said. “We get a base hit there, or even a walk, it may be a different game with momentum going our way… It was a weird game. We all thought we were going to win that game, then that three-run homer kind of hurt us a little bit.”
A crowd of 42,219 was on hand including baseball commissioner Bud Selig, and many Braves fans sat in stunned disbelief during the early long-ball barrage from Ramirez, James Loney and Luis Cruz. It was the first time since 2007 that three consecutive Dodgers hit home runs, and all three came in a span of four pitches.
“The solo homers, I can pitch around,” Sheet said. “They hit three tonight, you don’t see many people go back-to-back-to-back. So I can deal with those. But the two walks with two outs in the sixth inning … it [ticks] me off.”
Sheets cruised through the first four batters before and also the next 10 after that second inning home run-a-thon. But he ran into trouble again in the sixth when he walked both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier with two outs.
After a mound visit from pitching coach Roger McDowell, Sheets fell behind 3-and-0 against Ramirez. The next pitch was a 90-mph fastball that Ramirez lined to the left-field seats for a 6-1 lead.
Three homers off Sheets came on 89-90 mph fastballs. The exception was Cruz, who hammered a first-pitch curveball.
Sheets took no consolation from the fact that no Dodgers reached base other than on the four homers and two walks.
“Well, that’s a lot of baserunners,” he said. “As long as I let my guys play. Walks, they can’t play behind you, and home runs, they can’t play behind you. If I give them a chance to make plays, they make a lot of great plays.”
Sheets, 33, was out of baseball for two years and uncertain if he’d pitch again after an unusually complicated elbow surgery in 2010, his second elbow procedure in two years. The Braves signed the former Milwaukee ace to a minor league contract six weeks ago, and for a while he looked like he might be a frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year.
But after going 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA in his first three starts for the Braves, he is 1-3 with a 4.85 ERA in his past four. And after not allowing a home run in his first 27-2/3 innings, Sheets has allowed six in his past 16-1/3 innings.
The Braves jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning against Aaron Harang, who was 1-3 with a 4.53 ERA in 10 previous starts against them.
Michael Bourn led off with a walk and scored on a Prado double before Harang recorded an out. The right-hander walked two more in the inning, Chipper Jones intentionally with one out and Dan Uggla unintentionally to load the bases with two outs.
That brought up Ross, who was 4-for-9 with three homers off Harang before Saturday. This time he struck out on a foul tip as he tried to check his swing.
Harang (9-7) settled in after that, allowing four baserunners over the next five innings and never more than one in an inning. He collected eight strikeouts and was charged with one run, four hits and five walks in 6-2/3 innings.
The Braves got two-out doubles from Jones in the third and Paul Janish in the fourth. and a two-out walk by Jason Heyward in the fourth. Each time Harang retired the next batter, and after Uggla’s one-out walk in the sixth, Harang struck out Ross and Janish.