By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Jul 15, 2004 at 5:17 AM

They only pitched an inning each, but Ben Sheets and Dan Kolb made Brewers' fans proud in this week's All Star Game.

Sheets pitched a perfect eighth inning. He struck out former Brewer Ron Belliard, now with the Indians and got Cleveland's Victor Martinez and Baltimore's Miguel Tejada to ground out to former Brewer second baseman Mark Loretta, who made the All Star game as a Padre.

Kolb had been National League manager Jack McKeon's ace in the hole, so he could avoid running out of pitchers like happened in Miller Park a couple years ago. But, when NL starter Roger Clemens got knocked around for six runs in the first inning, McKeon decided to save him any more embarrassment and went to Kolb in the second.

The Brewers' closer got Ichiro Suzuki to ground to first base, gave up a single to Pudge Rodriguez, retired Vladimir Guerrero on a fly to center and ended the inning by getting Manny Ramirez to ground into a force out.

Sheets and Kolb stood out on a night when Clemens, Randy Johnson and other NL pitchers struggled against the American League lineup.

This writer first saw Sheets shine in 2000 in Sydney. I had heard about him in the Brewers' farm system and knew he was considered one of the team's top prospects.

When I saw him pitch in the Games, I saw he had big game poise. I also saw him throw a fast ball and curve like he has this season. He showed those pitches in the first half of his rookie season in 2001, but then lost some velocity and sharpness on his breaking ball, at least on a consistent basis.

Sheets didn't complain, but a nagging back problem made it more difficult to have his good stuff every game. He also was still learning the big leagues and, frankly, the Brewers were so bad there weren't many big games with spotlights.

This year, Sheets' back has been sound for the most part. He has gained 2-3 miles per hour on his fast ball and is breaking off those wicked curves again. Big league hitters have looked like the Olympians trying to hit him.

The spotlight has returned. He gained national recognition when he struck out 18 batters earlier this season. Last week, he again stepped into the spotlight when he shut down the Cubs.

Sheets is being called the best young righthander in the National League by some national commentators. He is among the leaders in innings pitches, ERA, strikeouts and would have 11-12 wins if the Brewers gave him better run support. On Tuesday, Sheets was in his element. He responded well.

Kolb hasn't seen the spotlight until this season when he turned into one of the best closers in the game. After suffering arm injuries three straight seasons, Kolb looked to be done. But, Brewers' GM Doug Melvin remembered him when both were with the Rangers, gave Kolb another chance and the rest is history, even if it is recent history.

The Brewers will need both Sheets and Kolb to be effective, and will need Scott Podsednik, Geoff Jenkins and others to step up their offense if they are going to stay above .500 for the rest of the season.

Despite their big sweep of the Cubs, the Brewers lost seven of their last 11 games before the All Star break. Kolb gave up his first extra base hits of the season and suffered the loss in the game right before the break.

But, the main reason the Crew struggled right before the break was the lack of timely hitting, which plagued the team off and on in the first half. That has to change, and change quickly, since the Brewers go head-to-head with National League Central opponents for the rest of the month.

It starts Thursday with a series at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, who will be looking for some revenge.

ESPN Outdoors Games

Wisconsin athletes dominated the ESPN Great Outdoors Games last weekend in Madison. Mandy Erdmann of La Crosse beat last year's Boom Run champ, Abi Hoeschler, also of La Crosse, in an all Wisconsin final in that event.

J.R. Salzmann of Hayward won the men's Boom Run, besting Carl Rick of Onalaska in the finals. Wisconsin competitors fared well in other events.

Perhaps the most interesting contribution was made by Sean Duffy, who is the Ashland County district attorney and a former member of the cast of MTV's The Real World. Duffy competed in the Speed Climb and then served as an analyst for ESPN.

The Games set an attendance record with 68,424 fans, besting the old record of 57,000 set in Reno, Nev., last year. It is not known if ESPN will hold the games in Madison again next year.

You can see highlights of the competition on ESPN and ABC through this coming weekend.

Hot Tix

The Brewers' games at Wrigley start at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, 2:20 p.m. Friday, 3:05 p.m. Saturday and 1:20 p.m. Sunday. It seems the Cubs' front office wants to keep Brewers' fans guessing.

After the series in Wrigley, the Brewers play at Cincinnati, St. Louis and Houston. The Crew finally returns to Miller Park July 26 to host the Cubbies again.

Wave United hosts Edmonton at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Uihlein Field.

The U.S. Bank Championship, formerly known as the Greater Milwaukee Open, starts Monday with pro-am events. The actual competition runs July 22-25 at Brown Deer. Read more about it in next week's Weekend Sports Buzz.

Superweek in bicycling has started. The first race in the Milwaukee area was held Wednesday at Whitnall Park. Here are other area races:

July 15 -- Humboldt and Shorewood, July 16 -- Brewers Hill and Schlitz Park, July 17 -- Waukesha, July 19 -- Hartford, July 20 -- Lakefront of Milwaukee, July 24 -- Lakefront of Milwaukee and Downer Avenue, July 25 -- Whitefish Bay.

The races are at other locations around the state. You can see the complete schedule at

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.