Yovani more important to Crew than home field
Having their ace on hill for Game 5 trumps Miller Park edge
MILWAUKEE -- While discussing the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series between his Milwaukee Brewers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, Yovani Gallardo said this:
"For us, just having the opportunity to come back and play the final game at home, I think, it's huge for us."
Of course, he's not wrong. The Brewers were the Major Leagues' best team at home this season, going 57-24. This notion was further advanced when the Brewers opened 2-0 against the D-backs in this series at Miller Park, and then went 0-2 at Chase Field.
But at this point, what might be an even more important factor for the Brewers is the fact that their Game 5 starter is Gallardo.
This is not said to take anything away from Arizona's Game 5 starter, Ian Kennedy, who went 21-4 this year and has repeatedly demonstrated his talent, his character, his worth. The Brewers cannot reasonably expect to score runs in great bunches against him, which only serves to underscore the importance of their own starter.
The D-backs have considerable, justifiable faith in Kennedy.
"He's been our horse all year," closer J.J. Putz said Thursday. "I think everybody in our clubhouse is excited to see him go out and do what he does."
Gallardo got the best of the matchup with Kennedy in Game 1, throwing eight brilliant innings, giving up one run on four hits. This continued a run of superior pitching by Gallardo that included his last three starts of the regular season.
He is on a roll, but then, there is also his work against Arizona to consider. Including the postseason start, Gallardo is 6-0 against the D-backs with a 1.18 earned run average.
"Honestly, I try not to look at that," Gallardo said Thursday.
That is another mark of his pitching maturity. This start will be an event onto itself, unattached to previous history. But for the Brewers, and for the legions of Brewers fans, many of whom waited 29 years for a postseason chance this promising, it is yet another reason for genuine confidence.
When Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was asked Thursday what offered him more comfort, the home-field advantage in Game 5, or having Gallardo as his starting pitcher, he responded:
"Both. I like both combinations."
Good answer. But this is the thing about the 2011 Brewers, the club whose 96 regular-season victories were the most in franchise history: Even with the two genuine MVP candidates in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder providing firepower in the middle of their lineup, when the Brewers made their move in the second half of the season, they were a pitching-first operation. They had outstanding starting pitching and they had a lock-down bullpen, anchored by closer John Axford, with his 43 consecutive successful save opportunities.
Brewers fans just witnessed the disappointing flip side of that equation in this series, in Games 3 and 4 when starters Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf came up with notably sub-standard performances. Those outings served as a reminder of how important quality pitching is to this club.
"I think pitching has dictated what's happened in our series," Roenicke said. "The two starts we had at their place, we didn't pitch very well. If we would have been on the road with Yo opening up, I think he would have pitched a real good ballgame."
With all due respect to Zack Greinke, a Cy Young Award winner and a major talent, at this moment, facing a game of this magnitude, putting the ball in Gallardo's hands is the optimal situation for the Brewers. Gallardo may still be a developing talent at age 25, but he has already developed to the point where he can be considered an ace.
This is the way it is supposed to be in a decisive postseason game, with both teams going with their lead starter, both starters pitching in turn, rested and ready to go. The setting is suitably large, the starting pitchers are suitably talented. This offers the promise of postseason baseball at its best.
"We've got our No. 1 guy, against their No. 1 guy," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said Thursday. "We all feel good. They feel good. We feel good."
By Friday night, we will all see who will feel better, and who will be moving on to face Philadelphia or St. Louis with the pennant and a journey to the World Series at stake.
But for the Milwaukee Brewers, feeling good at this point is not only a matter of having the niftiest home-field advantage in baseball. At this time of the year, when pitching means more than ever, having Gallardo get the start is also a reason, even after two dispiriting losses, for real optimism.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.