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Gallardo gives up four runs in the first

ST. LOUIS -- The Brewers face their first series deficit of this postseason, and the key question is whether the Cardinals took the lead in the National League Championship Series or Milwaukee handed it over.

That debate was sure to follow a 4-3 loss to St. Louis in Game 3 that was settled in the first inning. The Brewers gave away one out on the basepaths and couldn't convert two more in the outfield, missed opportunities that handed the Cards a 4-0 lead that would hold up.

Near-catches -- arguably, should-have-been catches -- by center fielder Mark Kotsay and right fielder Corey Hart in the first inning became crucial run-scoring Cardinals hits in the Brewers' eighth consecutive road loss in the postseason, the longest such streak since the Cubs lost eight straight from 1984-98. Milwaukee's streak began after this date in 1982, when Mike Caldwell worked a shutout for a 10-0 win over St. Louis in Game 1 of a World Series that began on the same path as this NLCS.

The Brewers took Game 1, then dropped Games 2 and 3. Just like Wednesday, when Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo faced St. Louis' Chris Carpenter, Game 3 of the '82 Series was a matchup of aces Joaquín Andújar and Pete Vuckovich. The Cards eventually won in a decisive Game 7.

The more pressing bit of history for the Brewers is this: Since the LCS went to a seven-game format in 1985, NL teams falling into a 2-1 hole have won only five of 21 series. Milwaukee's American League brothers do not offer any better blueprint. AL teams have the identical series record in that situation.

"Regardless of whether we're winning or losing the series, we recognize what's at stake," Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. "They still have to win a couple of games. It's just a race to see whether they win two or we win three. We have to keep perspective."

Game 4 is Thursday at 7:05 p.m. CT on TBS, and pits the Milwaukee's Randy Wolf against St. Louis' Kyle Lohse. The Brewers then have Zack Greinke for Game 5 on Friday.

"I don't think it changes anything," Kotsay said of the series deficit. "We knew we were going to come here and it was going to be a battle. I don't think anyone had in their mind we would come here and it was going to be a walk in the park."

Game 3 was a pitchers' duel, just not the one everybody expected from Gallardo and Carpenter. Instead, both starters were out after five hard-fought innings, and it became a battle of bullpens.

In the end, it was the first inning that buried the Brewers.

In the top half, they had a budding rally against Carpenter when Kotsay, 35 years old and playing in his sixth postseason series, was doubled off second base on a Prince Fielder line drive. Kotsay retreated toward second and made an awkward headfirst slide, his face banging in the dirt. Speaking to reporters postgame, his beard only partially covered the damage.

"It will be a part of history for a long time, I guess," Kotsay said. "It was quite entertaining for everybody. But I was doing everything I could to get back to the bag, and I came up a little short."

Kotsay came up short again in the bottom of the first.

The Cardinals' rally began with a Rafael Furcal single over second base and escalated when Jon Jay hit a line drive to the left-center-field gap. Kotsay, starting for the slumping Nyjer Morgan, a swap that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke conceded traded defense for the potential of offense, got a terrific jump on Jay's hit but couldn't close the gap. Jay had an RBI double and the Cards had scored in the first inning for the fifth consecutive postseason game.

"It's a 3-2 count with a runner on second and a left-handed hitter up -- you're looking to pull the ball, you're not looking to go to left-center with the ball," Kotsay said. "[Jay] got beat. It was a good pitch. It was a ball that was just out of my reach. I gave every effort to get it and came up short, and they built momentum on that play."

Pujols followed with a booming ground-rule double for a 2-0 lead. Consecutive walks loaded the bases for Yadier Molina's run-scoring double play, making it 3-0, and David Freese hit a double over Hart's head to make it 4-0.

Hart appeared to have a play when the ball left the bat, but the baseball carried far enough to tick off his glove for another run-scoring hit.

"I thought I was going to get it. It just kept going," Hart said. "He's kind of like a mini [Scott] Rolen, with natural strength that way. Off the bat, I thought it was going to be an easy catch."

This was not a good matchup for Gallardo from the start. He entered the night 1-7 with a 5.66 ERA in 11 career starts against St. Louis, the lone win a near no-hitter at Busch Stadium back in May. He lost to the Cardinals twice in September, and faced a particularly difficult individual matchup against St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols, who was 12-for-27 against him with four home runs and more walks (five) than strikeouts (three). Pujols added two more hits on Wednesday before the Brewers started intentionally walking him.

In other words, Gallardo needed all the help he could get, and he got very little in the first inning.

"'Yo' kept battling," Hart said. "It was awesome. Things didn't go the way he wanted to early on, but he kept us in the ballgame and gave us a chance to play it out. Our bullpen was lights-out -- we just couldn't score."

Carpenter had trouble of his own, starting with a two-run second inning that began with three Brewers singles. Yuniesky Betancourt's hit put Milwaukee on the scoreboard, and two batters later, Gallardo delivered a sacrifice fly.

Kotsay led off the third inning with a first-pitch 416-foot home run to make it a one-run game.

"When we got 4-3, I felt good," Roenicke said. "I thought we were going to score some more runs. 'Yo' got a little better. He still had to battle through his innings, but I thought he got better."

Both starters lasted only five innings, with Carpenter winning the battle by limiting the damage to three runs on six hits, with three walks, including an intentional pass to Prince Fielder in the fifth inning. That left runners at first and second base in a pivotal at-bat for Rickie Weeks, who struck out. The Brewers didn't have a baserunner the rest of the night.

Carpenter and four relievers retired the final 13 Milwaukee hitters to seal the series lead.

"When I left the game after the fifth tonight, typically as a starting pitcher, you're concerned about that," Carpenter said. "You don't want to leave 12 outs for your bullpen, but I was OK with it. I worked as hard as I could. I had confidence in what they were going to do, and they did it again."

Gallardo was charged with four runs on eight hits. He walked five batters for the first time in 2011, and his two strikeouts matched his season low.

He threw 95 pitches, and the earliest Gallardo would be available again is Game 6 on Sunday, if Roenicke is willing to use his stud right-hander on three days' rest.

"Whether we are down 2-1, I still feel good with our club," Roenicke said. "This is a good club we are playing, and, you know, when you make mistakes like we did the first inning, they were going to get their hits. They are going to score some runs. Offensively, I thought we were going to be able to come back, and we were not able to do it." Comments