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09/29/08 7:16 PM ET

Brewers tab Gallardo to start Game 1

Sabathia to get Game 2 nod; Sheets' NLDS status unknown

MILWAUKEE -- Less than five months ago, Yovani Gallardo was sprawled out in foul territory near first base at Wrigley Field, clutching his right knee. A day later, the Brewers learned the extent of the injury -- a torn anterior cruciate ligament -- and two weeks after that, Gallardo was under a surgeon's knife.

On Wednesday, the 22-year-old will be on the mound at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia as one of the unlikeliest Game 1 pitchers in postseason baseball history.

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Acting Brewers manager Dale Sveum announced Monday that Gallardo will start the opener of the best-of-5 National League Division Series against the Phillies. As expected, CC Sabathia will start Game 2, once again on three days' rest, and would also be available for a possible Game 5.

"I just want to get going," Gallardo said at the Brewers' "Rally Monday" sendoff at Milwaukee's Summerfest grounds. "I love that they are giving me the opportunity to go out there."

Sveum and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin met during the day Monday to make decisions on the rotation and the postseason roster. But Sveum said the roster would not be announced until after Tuesday's noon CT workout at Citizens Bank Park. Sveum was not ready to say that injured right-hander Ben Sheets would be left off the NLDS roster, though Sheets was highly skeptical even after the Brewers clinched the NL Wild Card on Sunday.

The choice of Gallardo is somewhat remarkable, given that he has made one 67-pitch start since his knee surgery and that he has all of 21 big league starts to his name.

"He might be a rookie on paper, but he's not a rookie in his heart," Sveum said. "He's an 'ahead of his time' young man."

Gallardo reported to Spring Training expected to serve as the Brewers' co-ace alongside Sheets. Only 21 in 2007, Gallardo became the 100th Mexican-born Major Leaguer, going 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 20 big league games. Seventeen of those outings were starts, and 12 of those were so-called "quality starts" of at least six innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs.

But it did not take long for Gallardo's sophomore season to take a bad turn.

First he reported to Spring Training with a sore left knee, the result, Gallardo said, of a preseason bullpen session at home in Fort Worth, Texas. He underwent surgery Feb. 19 to repair torn cartilage, eight days before his 22nd birthday.

That setback pushed Gallardo's '08 debut to April 20 at Cincinnati, when he limited the Reds to one run and four hits in seven good innings. Aaron Harang was just as good that day, and the Brewers lost in 10 innings behind Eric Gagne's third blown save.

Gallardo was even better five days later against Florida, allowing no runs on six hits while striking out five in another seven-inning performance. Again, he was saddled with a no-decision in a 3-0 Brewers loss.

Brewers' NLDS roster
Dave Bush Pitcher R R
Eric Gagne Pitcher R R
Yovani Gallardo Pitcher R R
Seth McClung Pitcher L R
Guillermo Mota Pitcher R R
Manny Parra Pitcher L L
CC Sabathia Pitcher L L
Brian Shouse Pitcher L L
Mitch Stetter Pitcher L L
Jeff Suppan Pitcher R R
Salomon Torres Pitcher R R
Carlos Villanueva Pitcher R R
Jason Kendall Catcher R R
Mike Rivera Catcher R R
Craig Counsell Infielder L R
Ray Durham Infielder S R
Prince Fielder Infielder L R
Bill Hall Infielder R R
J.J. Hardy Infielder R R
Brad Nelson Infielder L R
Rickie Weeks Infielder R R
Ryan Braun Outfielder R R
Mike Cameron Outfielder R R
Tony Gwynn Jr. Outfielder L R
Corey Hart Outfielder R R

Somehow, Gallardo stayed in the game, finished the fifth inning and then surrendered two runs in the sixth before exiting. A manual test after the game showed there was likely serious damage to his knee, and an MRI scan revealed the torn ACL the following morning.

Melvin's reaction to the news told the story.

"Pretty devastating," he said May 2. "Pretty tough." The Brewers immediately began to downplay Gallardo's chances of returning before the end of 2008. Privately, though, a rehabilitation plan was put into place with a target to get Gallardo healthy by mid-September for a possible late-season or postseason return in some capacity.

Then, disaster. Gallardo was working in the fifth inning on May 1 at Wrigley Field and trailed the Cubs, 1-0. He rushed to cover first base when Chicago outfielder Reed Johnson hit a slow roller to first baseman Prince Fielder. When Fielder dove at Johnson, Gallardo tried to hurdle the runner but instead tangled with him.

Brewers' lineup for NLDS Game 1
1. Mike Cameron
2. Bill Hall
3. Ryan Braun
4. Prince Fielder
5. J.J. Hardy
6. Corey Hart
7. Rickie Weeks
8. Jason Kendall
9. Yovani Gallardo

Even as Gallardo began throwing simulated games, Brewers officials carefully guarded information about his progress. When they did mention the possibility of a return, it was most likely to be in relief. Even Gallardo, after being activated from the disabled list on Sept. 23, said he expected to pitch out of the bullpen.

Instead, he started against the Pirates on Sept. 25. Gallardo threw 67 pitches in four innings and allowed one run on three hits including a Steve Pearce solo home run. In his only at-bat, Gallardo never took the bat off his shoulder, a sign that the Brewers did not want him on the basepaths with a surgically repaired knee.

"It's a credit to the whole training staff that I was able to get to that point," Gallardo said Sunday. "I was hoping for it all along, but it was really good to actually get out there and pitch. I'm ready if they need me [in Philadelphia]."

In Gallardo, Sveum is picking raw talent over experience. He could have used postseason stalwart Jeff Suppan (5-2 with a 3.00 ERA in nine career postseason starts) on regular rest or Dave Bush on three days' rest.

Gallardo beat the Phillies in his only career start against them. He was charged with one earned run on four hits in 6 1/3 innings on Aug. 3, 2007, at Miller Park. That outing lowered Gallardo's ERA to 2.55, though it ballooned to 4.20 five days later when he was hammered for 11 runs and 12 hits in 2 2/3 innings at Colorado.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.