video thumbnail

PHI@ATL: McCann goes deep with a three-run homer

ATLANTA -- Three weeks ago, Ben Sheets was coaching his son's baseball team and Brian McCann was mired in one of the most frustrating slumps of his career. Now, Sheets and McCann stand as two of the primary reasons the Braves feel confident as they approach the regular season's final two months.

McCann drilled yet another home run against the Phillies, and Sheets added to the wonder of his successful comeback while helping the Braves claim a 6-1 win on Friday night at Turner Field.

"He's everything that we could have asked for," McCann said of Sheets. "He's great in the clubhouse and he's a veteran presence. All the way around, he's a pretty special guy to have."

McCann's three-run home run off Cole Hamels in the fifth inning provided more than enough support for Sheets, who allowed one run on six hits in six innings. Meanwhile, Hamels issued a career-high six walks and allowed five runs -- three earned -- in a season-short five innings. 

In other words, the guy who signed a Minor League contract after being retired for two years, outpitched the guy who signed a six-year, $144 million contract on Wednesday.

"I'm just riding it, dude, riding the wave," Sheets said. "I'm on a very good team. These guys do the heavy pulling. I'm just trying to put in a little two cents myself. Trying to help us out."

Since ending his retirement earlier this month and making his way back to the Majors after the All-Star break, Sheets has allowed just one run in the 18 innings he has completed for Atlanta. That one run was scored when Jimmy Rollins began this series opener with a single and scored when Shane Victorino followed with a double.

Sheets proved perfect the next two innings and pitched around two doubles during the remainder of his 94-pitch outing. Not bad for a 34-year-old former All-Star who figured his career was finished when he underwent elbow surgery in 2010.

"That was a hell of a pickup," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Lot of upside, and we're reaping the byproduct of that."

While Sheets was doing the unexpected by beginning his comeback with a third consecutive win, McCann was doing something historic. His fifth-inning shot off Hamels made him the only player since 1918 to homer in six consecutive games against the Phillies.

"I love McCann, but somebody is getting him out," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Look at that .240 up there. I guarantee if you walk over and ask him, I guarantee he'll tell you he doesn't want to be hitting .240 -- .240 is .240. He's hitting us. We're having a hard time getting him out."

The efforts of McCann and Sheets combined with Mike Fontenot's costly two-out error in a two-run second inning helped the Braves claim a fourth consecutive win over the Phillies for the first time since the 2009 season.

Before winning each of the four games played this month, the Braves had lost nine of 10 games against the Phillies. Much of this success can be attributed to McCann, who has hit six of his 17 home runs against the Phillies.

"The last couple years they've had our number," McCann said. "So it's good to kind of turn the tide a little bit."

With the Braves owning a slim one-run advantage in the fifth inning, Chipper Jones drilled his second double of the night to put runners at second and third. Two batters later, McCann sent a 1-0 fastball over the right-center-field wall.

When McCann rested during the July 4 game against the Cubs, he was hitting .225 with nine home runs and a .379 slugging percentage. In the 15 games he has played since then, the six-time All-Star catcher has batted .321 (17-for-53) with eight home runs and an .811 slugging percentage.

"It's been a good couple of weeks or a good month I guess," McCann said. "I'm just glad I'm back to where I was my whole career. The first half of this season was brutal. I've put it behind me. But to be honest, I think it's the best thing that ever happened to me because it's made me get back to the basics and do what I've always done."

The Braves gave Sheets an early lead with the help of the three walks Hamels issued in the second inning. The veteran southpaw issued consecutive two-out walks to the slumping Dan Uggla and Paul Janish within a span of nine pitches.

Fontenot then allowed Sheets' two-out grounder to slip between his legs. Michael Bourn followed with a single that scored Janish to give the Braves a lead they would not relinquish.

Twelve years ago, Sheets proved masterful while leading the United States to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics. Four years ago, he served as the National League's starting pitcher during the last All-Star Game played at Yankee Stadium.

Now he finds himself challenged without the overpowering fastball or arsenal that he once possessed. But during the early stages of this comeback, he has stood up to the challenge in impressive fashion.

"That's a scary 60-feet, 6-inches," Sheets said. "If you don't feel like you can get somebody out, that's a scary place to be. When I ask for an L-Screen, that's when you'll know that I don't have confidence."

MLB.com Comments