Ben Sheets looks like medical miracle in Braves’ debut

Ben Sheets didn't expect to pitch again, let alone throw six shutout innings. (Curtis Compton)

Ben Sheets didn't expect to pitch again. He did far better than that. (Curtis Compton)

Two years ago, Ben Sheets had a simple goal.

“I just wanted them to fix me so I could play catch with my boy,” he said.

He did more than that Sunday. He played catch with Brian McCann. He threw 88 major league pitches, exactly 88 more than he would’ve expected when his elbow mutated into some ugly blog of disconnected tendons and ligaments in 2010. He struck out the first batter of the game. He retired the last 10 he faced. He allowed only two hits in six shutout innings, defeated the New York Mets 6-1 and in the process likely clinched the next magazine cover – not of Sports Illustrated, but the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Sheets didn’t play catch with his boys, Seaver and Miller. But when it was over, he did hug his two young boys when they ran into the Braves’ clubhouse after the game, a scene he never could’ve envisioned after pitching his final game for Oakland in 2010.

“Honestly, in my mind two years ago, I was done,” he said.

Sheets was once among the best pitchers in baseball. He played in four All-Star Games in eight seasons with Milwaukee. He sent the Braves to therapy in 2004, striking out 18 of them in one game. But he missed a season after elbow surgery late in 2008, came back with Oakland, but his arm blew up worse than before.

Understand, this isn’t a simple comeback. Before surgery in 2010, Sheets’ right elbow looked like the after-shot of Kabul. The guy is relatively bionic. In 2010, doctors knew surgery was needed to fix a torn flexor tendon for the second time in two years. But when Dr. Keith Meister opened up the right arm, two other problems were confirmed: 1) a torn ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John surgery; 2) damage to his pronator tendon.

You don’t need to have a Ph.D or even excel in the “Operation” game to know that if a 32-year-old pitcher is having a ligament and two tendons in his throwing elbow stitched, tied and duct-taped, his next career decision likely would involve either starting a tractor or coaching youth baseball (he opted for the latter).

Sheets said when he woke up in the hospital, he looked and felt like he had been run over.

“I had an IV in my foot,” he said. “Doctors tried to get a tendon out of this [left] arm and it was no good so he wrapped it. Then he tried to get one out of my leg and it was too little. So he got one out my hamstring. I woke up, and I was wrapped here [left leg] and here [left arm] and my foot had the IV. Meister told somebody, ‘Ben’s not going to be very happy with me.’”

Actually, if Sheets was the winner Sunday, Meister got the save. He not only turned Sheets into the bionic pitcher, he convinced him to try this comeback, which led to him working out for the Braves five weeks ago.

“He was the guy who got me into this mode again,” he said. “I’m sure being the doctor who did it, he wanted to see some good results. But he was the one in early March who called me and was like, ‘Hey man, why don’t you get going again?’ He lit the fire.”

If Sheets has lost a mile or two off his fastball, it didn’t matter Sunday. He struck out Ruben Tejada on a 79-mile per hour curve ball to open the game. He didn’t allow a hit until the third, but got out of a second-and-third jam with two outs by retiring David Wright on a fly ball. That started a string of 10 straight outs.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez sent up a pinch hitter for him in the bottom of the sixth, which Sheets said “was the smart play.” He was coming off only an 11-pitch sixth, but this wasn’t the time to push a medical miracle to its limits.

Sheets wasn’t taking any chances Sunday. He even changed his locker from the seemingly cursed one in the Braves’ clubhouse — used by Kenshin Kawakami, Julio Lugo and a blur of short-timers — to one in a bank generally reserved for minor-league call-ups. Publicly, of course, he wouldn’t acknowledge the legend.

“No, it ain’t cursed, I just wasn’t comfortable there,” he said, smiling. “You couldn’t see the TV from there.  I’m also closer to the [food] spread here.”

He’ll have the locker for a while. More games of catch will be forthcoming.

By Jeff Schultz

107 comments Add your comment

Alex Mo

July 15th, 2012
7:17 pm

Great start for Sheets. He looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. VERY impressive and just what the team needed. Hopefully he can keep up the good work! Go Braves!

JSS

July 15th, 2012
7:19 pm

Good for Ben

merbertmoover

July 15th, 2012
7:20 pm

agent7g

July 15th, 2012
7:22 pm

Nice story for Ben. Let’s hope it turns into something really memorable for the Braves.

Columbus

July 15th, 2012
7:22 pm

Great game. Proves the Braves have more info and therefore know more than most of us.

Kramer

July 15th, 2012
7:32 pm

Great win for Ben. Now lets make a deal for another starter and get this train rolling into the playoffs!

GT ATL

July 15th, 2012
7:39 pm

Fitting Seabiscuit was on HBO right before the game today.

Congrats Ben.

Although as a braves fan I hope for great things I am sure you have reached a personal high you once questioned.

Sonny Clusters

July 15th, 2012
7:43 pm

We was very happy for Ben Sheets. Moving away from Kawakami’s old locker was a smart move and we suspect he may bring a good habit or two to the team. He was still watching the game after he got pulled.

5150 UOAD

July 15th, 2012
7:51 pm

Braves WIN great day

lovethosedawgs68

July 15th, 2012
7:53 pm

I don’t think I could’ve been more impressed with Mr. Sheets today! Very cool hearing that the family was there to see it all unfold. Very impressive curve and change-up. Used the change-up more than I remember. Congrats Big Ben and welcome back to the major leagues!!

Ole Smoky

July 15th, 2012
7:55 pm

If Sheets can can continue the good work..We might just have shot….

Dirty Dawg

July 15th, 2012
8:10 pm

Maybe with the miraculous, heart-warming, story of Ben Sheets, those damned sports ‘experts’ on ESPN and MLB just might start paying attention and end their blind obsession with the Nationals, the Mets and the Phillies. Not that flying below the radar isn’t satisfying, but you’d just like to feel appreciated. The Braves will likely need more but Ben’s inspiring story could very well propell them them into a particularly special season. Hope so anyway. Of course, whataya bet that ‘the story’ from the NY media will be how the Mets and Santana wuz robbed?

Jeff McDowell

July 15th, 2012
8:10 pm

Wake up Dennis Quaid..There may be another movie in the works…Great job Big Ben..

Jaded

July 15th, 2012
8:12 pm

Enter your comments here

Jaded

July 15th, 2012
8:15 pm

Sheets was a brilliant pickup. I didn’t understand why so many people were so cynical about it. This wasn’t like picking up Mark Redman off the scrap heap. Sheets has been a big-time major league pitcher, and I’ll take my chances on a guy who’s been excellent throughout his career. The only knock against Sheets has always been his health, not his stuff.

Delbert D.

July 15th, 2012
8:19 pm

Good story, filling in the details.

Shadowfax

July 15th, 2012
8:22 pm

I’m reminded of my favorite quote…(which I think I penned), “You will never get to the top of the ladder if you don’t reach for the next rung.” Mr. Sheets has reached for the next rung and now the top is only a matter of time. Great performance! I guess our Front Office does know what they’re doing!

Terrance

July 15th, 2012
8:26 pm

Congrats to Mr. Sheets on an outstanding performance. It was just a small sample size, but if he can provide us with at least six innings per start, I’m all for it.

Deja vu

July 15th, 2012
8:33 pm

There is no better story in sports or life than comeback.

Fan of the Game

July 15th, 2012
8:37 pm

I like the way he stayed in the dugout with his teammates until the game was over. Good job Frank Wrenn!

Dr Huer

July 15th, 2012
8:42 pm

Congratulations to Ben & the Braves! Yesterday, we were desperately seeking an arm to prop up the back end of the rotation. Today the Braves may have taken a giant step toward the playoffs and beyond.

kingdaddy

July 15th, 2012
8:46 pm

Fantastic article Jeff, really a great feel-good story if there ever was one.
Congragulations Ben and welcome to the Bravos…

Vain Jangling

July 15th, 2012
8:49 pm

Give us a hundred innings from here on out and we’ll all go home happy.

Dirty Dawg

July 15th, 2012
8:50 pm

The baseball world has to be impressed with the amazing, and heartwarming story of ‘our’ Ben Sheets. That’s right, Ben Sheets is, assuming he can keep it up, quite a story and he’s an Atlanta Brave. We’ll know more when we see the ‘experts’ at ESPN, MLB and FauxSports start paying attention to the Braves instead of only thinking about the Mets, the Nationals and the Phillies. Of course my bet is that all they’ll tell about today’s game and this sweep is that the Mets wuz robbed.

kingdaddy

July 15th, 2012
8:54 pm

Is it me, or are the Braves uniforms a shade of yaller???

Rob In Fayetteville

July 15th, 2012
8:54 pm

I wonder now where all the trolls are who came on and thought that signing Sheets was a waste. No, what was a waste was having to read through all the negative nay-bobs who think every move Frank Wren makes is the wrong one. Time will tell, but I suspect Frank just got us a top-of-the-line starter for next to nothing. Pretty good deal to me.

The Cold Truth

July 15th, 2012
8:59 pm

He did a great job and is a remarkable story but the Braves better keep looking. A 32 year old + pitcher with multiple arm surgeries is probably not going to last very long. Just saying….

Dawg Haus

July 15th, 2012
9:02 pm

Great post on a remarkable story, Jeff! I’m so happy for Sheets and hope he can keep it going. We certainly need him.

Sabermetric Meister

July 15th, 2012
9:07 pm

Sweet….let’s hope he has staying power.

mark grabowski

July 15th, 2012
9:10 pm

Me thinks Ben & Greinke were teammates??!! Would be a nice reunion !! Go Bravos !!

E from Riverdale

July 15th, 2012
9:19 pm

All I can say is wow and welcome to Atlanta Mr. Sheets. Let no one take your glory away from you for what you did today, you were remarkable.

puff

July 15th, 2012
9:21 pm

I used to not watch when the Braves faced Sheets as a Brewer. They had no chance. Today he didn’t look overpowering to that extent but seemed to have more ways to get guys out. Now, if the bionic arm will just recharge every few days.

Ghicks721

July 15th, 2012
9:26 pm

I went to reading the Mets Blog. Its a lot of fun! The writer was annoyed by how much the Braves hug and he made a Ben Sheets fat joke which I found out of line. And of course all the Mets fans are crying about those calls. Like mentioned before, their only no hitter was benefited from a missed call.

bravesgrl4life

July 15th, 2012
9:29 pm

Lets hold onto Sheets for a good long while. That way we won’t have to face him anymore. I was really, really impressed by him today and look forward to seeing him pitch again.

duronimo

July 15th, 2012
9:32 pm

I’m on antenna so I don[’t see the games unless they are on Peachtree. But from the video it looks like that famouis 12 to 6 curve was just like it used to be. His fast ball is a bit quicker than some of the other starters and it seemed to sneak up on the batters. His control was exceptional. Pretty impressive. It was nice to see Uggla on the bench.

da[01

July 15th, 2012
9:42 pm

I sat behind fans from New York. They definitely did not have any southern charm at all.

Billy

July 15th, 2012
9:48 pm

I didn’t have a problem with the Sheets signing to begin with. What was the risk? If it didn’t work, then send him on his way, and thanks for trying. But, so far, it works! Granted, it’s only one game, but maybe the Braves have caught lightning in a bottle! I hope it continues to work, and I still wouldn’t mind trading for Greinke, especially after he said he would sign an extension with the Braves!!

Pj

July 15th, 2012
9:54 pm

Interesting dilemma for the braves. If Jair and sheets pitch like they used to, do we really need to give up Tehran or Delgado for a starter?

O'Sheet

July 15th, 2012
10:09 pm

Was a GREAT pitching job Big Ben . . . Glad you are a Brave and hoping you stay with us a long time!! I bet those Mets were saying “Oh, Sheet” a lot today . . . Stay strong and teach our young guys some of your secrets. Loved seeing you sitting in the dugout until the game was over . . . maybe that’s something the other guys need to do, might get some ideas! Again THANKS Big Man.

Jack in Macon

July 15th, 2012
10:19 pm

We’ll know more after 3 starts. I’m wishing him and the Braves all the luck in the world. It’d be a great story.

Mike in Georgia

July 15th, 2012
10:34 pm

So nice to read a blog without the idiots who constantly “advise” us of how bad our players are, how stupid Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez are, how they know so much more than everyone of the experts in the baseball business. LMAO. During the offseason, it was Chipper Jones needed to go. He’s having a great year actually. Now, Dan Uggla, is to blame for all that is wrong because he is struggling with his batting average? Is that why we signed him–NO!…Mike Minor has caught his share of blame but he is a very good pitcher, not unlike Glavine, who is young and still paying his dues. You’re not going to get a Roy Halladay from day one naysayers! Go Braves and good luck to you Mr. Sheets. You deserve and so do we Braves fans (the real ones)!

Virginia Jim

July 15th, 2012
10:42 pm

Well done Ben. Hopefully, the younger pitchers on the team will learn a few things from his performance.

Peter

July 15th, 2012
10:54 pm

Wow fantastic… hopefully this is a new beginning to a playoff type rotation !

extremus

July 15th, 2012
11:07 pm

Great job by Sheets this afternoon. It’s a heart-warming human story as well, and if he can continue to stay healthy and pitch like he did today, his pickup by the Braves will probably be looked back upon as one of their all-time best mid-season acquisitions.

U Thant

July 15th, 2012
11:11 pm

“mutated into some ugly blog of disconnected tendons and ligaments” Much like this one?

Dr. Phil

July 15th, 2012
11:20 pm

Sheets could be the spark plug that this team needs. This is one of a number of very long and improbable shots that Wren and company have made in recent years. For Sheets and the Braves, I hope that this story continues. Great job on a great home stand!

Darryl Blackberry

July 15th, 2012
11:36 pm

Ben looks like the fourth or fifth starter we’ve been looking for. Now if we can just get an ace…

1. Greinke
2. Hudson
3. Hanson
4. Jurrjens
5. Sheets

Yep. That’d work.

JSS

July 15th, 2012
11:44 pm

Only one who could take a shot (instead of just the blog flow) was Mike! You know what they say… Well, you hit “submit” and just proved it!

Congrads again to Ben!

WAJA (AKA Mike)

Spud

July 15th, 2012
11:58 pm

I hope the Braves sent the guy that scouted Sheets a $50 Waffle House gift card. Ben had the best starting pitcher effort of the series for either team!

gentle ben

July 16th, 2012
12:04 am

great day for the surgicaly repaired! jj stand strong,huddy keep showing up.could be one nice story at year end.the young, the surgicaly repaired, and the second chance cat
,with hanson hanging tuff,not curveballs.maybe we make atrade i like minor in the bullpen.give boras and michael bourne 12-14 million.then lets suck it up and go get em’!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!