video thumbnail

ARI@MIL Gm1: Prince belts a two-run homer to right field in the seventh inning

MILWAUKEE -- Yovani Gallardo made the most of his second start in a postseason opener, and the Brewers' big hitters backed him up.

Gallardo pitched eight inspired innings and tied Don Sutton's postseason franchise record with nine strikeouts, and Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder combined for five of the Brewers' eight hits in a tone-setting, 4-1 win over the D-backs in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Saturday.

Fielder's two-out, two-run, seventh-inning home run was the biggest hit of the Brewers' first postseason home Game 1 since 1981, when Robin Yount & Co. hosted the Yankees at County Stadium in baseball's first divisional playoff. Miller Park was already packed to the rafters when Bob Uecker bounced a ceremonial first pitch, and Gallardo claimed the mound and did the rest.

"Ahh, electric," outfielder and Brewers sparkplug Nyjer Morgan said. "You didn't feel the whole keg shaking? The keg was shaking."

Eight innings and 106 pitches later, Gallardo had limited Arizona to four hits and one run to give the Brewers the series edge. In the current NLDS format, teams are 29-3 when taking a 1-0 lead in the series.

Gallardo was just short of what would have been the Brewers' first complete game in the postseason since left-hander Mike Caldwell blanked the Cardinals in Game 1 of the 1982 World Series, a 10-0 Milwaukee win. But history came in the form of Gallardo's nine strikeouts, matching Sutton's mark from Game 3 of the 1981 American League Championship Series against the Angels.

The 25-year-old has been a strikeout machine over the past month. In his past four starts, including Saturday, Gallardo has 45 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings.

"He's been great his whole career, but if you really look at the last month, it's like he has taken a step forward. He's been dominant," Braun said. "He's thrown the ball better than I've ever seen, and I've seen him since we were in [Class A] ball together."

It was Gallardo's second career postseason start. The first was in Philadelphia in 2008, when Gallardo was the Brewers' choice though he had returned only a week earlier from a major knee injury. He lasted four innings in a Game 1 Brewers loss.

This year is different. The Brewers are NL Central champions hosting the series' first two games, not the league's Wild Card entry playing on the road. Gallardo is at full strength. And the Brewers have a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

"I know when we lost Game 1 in '08, it felt terrible," Fielder said. "Not that we couldn't have come back, but I don't know -- it just feels better when you win."

Help on Saturday came from Braun, who had three hits and threw out a runner at the plate in the top of the first inning. It came from Jerry Hairston Jr. and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who drove in a run apiece in the fourth and sixth innings, respectively. And it came from Fielder, who connected on a seventh-inning curveball -- with two outs and first base open, notably -- from Arizona starter Ian Kennedy for a two-run homer and a 4-0 lead.

Kennedy made clear he planned to challenge Fielder with a first-pitch fastball. Considering he is Arizona's best pitcher, a bona fide NL Cy Young Award contender, and had held the Brewers scoreless on four hits in seven innings of the D-backs' July 21 win at Chase Field, Fielder and the Brewers insisted they were not surprised.

"He's their guy," Fielder said.

Kennedy surrendered four runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings this time.

He and Gallardo dueled through three scoreless innings, Gallardo ducking damage in the top of the first inning with a big assist from Braun. Willie Bloomquist had hit the game's first pitch for a single and stole second base before Justin Upton singled to left field. Braun's throw home was on the mark, with Lucroy catching it and applying the tag.

"I think it was a momentum-shifter," Lucroy said.

The Brewers broke through in the fourth when they loaded the bases with nobody out for Hairston, manager Ron Roenicke's choice to start at third base over slumping incumbent Casey McGehee. Hairston lined the first pitch for a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Braun with the game's first run.

In the sixth inning, Lucroy followed Yuniesky Betancourt's two-out triple with a bloop RBI single, and Fielder gave Gallardo and the Brewers some breathing room in the seventh with his second career postseason home run. Fielder's first, in Game 4 of the 2008 NLDS, was his only hit in 14 at-bats in his first career postseason series. He had two hits on Saturday.

Braun scored from second base on the home run, then turned around to box Fielder, their traditional post-homer celebration. Fielder was so fired up the routine was downright dangerous.

"I think I was really fortunate I was able to duck in time because his right hook came really quick today," Braun joked. "That was a huge home run; it turned a 2-0 game into a 4-0 game, and that completely changes the dynamic."

The D-backs scored against Gallardo in the eighth inning on Ryan Roberts' leadoff home run, but Gallardo struck out the next three batters he faced, his 106th pitch a called strike three from umpire Ron Kulpa that retired Bloomquist.

Roenicke turned to closer John Axford for the ninth inning, and Axford retired all three hitters he faced for the save.

"[Gallardo] was in a pitch count where we could have left him out there," Roenicke said. "We always talk about where we are in the eighth, ninth inning with [Francisco Rodriguez and Axford in the bullpen]. I don't know why you need to push your starter when you have those two guys out there."

Game 2 is on Sunday at 4 p.m. CT on TBS. Gallardo would be back for a potential Game 5, but the Brewers hope his next start comes in the NL Championship Series.

"He's dotting up every single pitch he threw, so it's kind of hard," Kennedy said. "You have to be perfect when a guy is throwing like that."

MLB.com Comments