Behind all the levity, such an integral part of Sheets’ personality, lies a fierce work ethic and considerable patience. A lot of pitchers find themselves out of work, or needing some serious adjustments, after the type of surgery (torn flexor tendon) he endured. To me, Sheets’ most telling comment Friday concerned his willingness to pitch through the 2008 stretch drive despite knowing that his arm, as they say, was falling off.
Asked if he thought the Brewers would have handled him differently in retrospect, he said, “They couldn’t have handled me differently. I was on the bump (mound) - I wasn’t taking myself out of there. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d go out there and be willing to blow my arm out again.”
This is something too few people understand. Every time a pitcher gets hurt - at least in modern times, in the paranoia over pitch counts - it’s the manager’s fault. The pitching coach’s fault. Has to be somebody’s fault. Dusty Baker, as sensitive to a player’s plight as any manager in the game, still hears from horribly unenlightened critics who believe he carelessly blew out arms on the Giants, Cubs and now the Reds.
It’s competition, folks. It’s a strong-willed athlete who would do anything to take the mound. It’s a manager with faith, and the good sense to ride the hot hand. It’s Robb Nen, Kerry Wood, Ben Sheets. The injuries come, or maybe they don’t, but the operative phrase is “Let’s go,” not “Jeez, I’m pretty worried.”