Gallardo in scoreless form as Crew triumphs
Aramis supplies two-run knock to support right-hander's strong showing
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was asked whether he was excited to turn the page from 2013, which was marked by Ryan Braun's suspension, Yovani Gallardo's struggles on the field and off, Aramis Ramirez's bum knee and myriad other matters.
For Melvin, turning the page wasn't enough.
"I said, 'No, we threw the book away, and we're opening a new book,'" the GM said Monday morning.
Chapter 1 of 162 offered lighter reading. Gallardo began his comeback with six scoreless innings Monday, and Braun and Ramirez combined to create the run support needed for a 2-0 win over the Braves on Opening Day at sold-out Miller Park. It was the Brewers' third victorious Opening Day shutout in 46 years as a franchise, and the first since they blanked Baltimore, 12-0, in 1988.
Gallardo scattered four hits, two walks and four strikeouts to win on Opening Day for the first time in five tries. Braun went 1-for-4, scored a run, stole a base and received a series of standing ovations from a friendly and forgiving crowd. Ramirez delivered a clutch double in the fourth inning and made the game's best defensive play with a dive-and-throw in the seventh.
Coming off a season to forget, that core trio had an opener to remember.
"It's a relief, pretty much," said Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who logged a save in the ninth inning and will be the closer until further notice. "You know all the incidents we went through last year, a lot of controversy. A lot of our key players, they weren't healthy at all.
"Now, this year is a different year, and we're going to put that behind. Our expectations are really high. ... If the big boys stay healthy, it's going to be a fun year for us."
The 45,691 fans on hand made up the sixth-largest crowd in Miller Park's 14 seasons, and they witnessed some history. In the third inning, Gallardo took sole possession of second place on the Brewers' all-time strikeout list. In the sixth, Braun saw his infield single converted to a groundout upon review -- the first call overturned via Major League Baseball's new system of replay.
Braun and Ramirez, together in the Brewers' starting for the first time since June 8, had a happier moment two innings earlier.
After shortstop Jean Segura opened the fourth inning by working a walk from Braves starter Julio Teheran, Braun delivered a broken-bat single for his first hit since being suspended last July. Segura was running with the pitch and made it to third base on the play, opening second base for Braun to steal. Ramirez followed by pulling a fastball into the left-field corner for a two-run double.
It was the sort of sequence that was missing for the Brewers last season, when Ramirez was hobbled by a left knee injury all year and Braun battled neck and thumb issues before his season-ending suspension.
"You take [Nos.] 3 and 4 out of any other team, and it's going to hurt," Ramirez said. "I don't care who you are. I don't care if you have the best lineup in baseball."
By then, Gallardo had eliminated his early-inning issues. He fell behind three of the four hitters he faced in the first and walked the Braves' leadoff hitter in the second, then retired 15 of the final 19 men he faced, including a strikeout of B.J. Upton in the third that pushed Gallardo into second place on the Brewers' all-time leaderboard. With another strikeout in the fifth inning, Gallardo has 1,084 strikeouts in a Brewers uniform, trailing only Ben Sheets' 1,206.
Explaining his early wildness, Gallardo said, "I was just excited. That extra adrenaline, being Game 1, Opening Day, I think always factors in. Getting out of that first inning, you tend to calm yourself down a little bit and go with the game plan that we had set."
Gallardo became the first Brewers pitcher to start five straight season openers, getting the nod over Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza, who will start the remaining games against Atlanta in that order. Part of the rationale, manager Ron Roenicke said, was Gallardo's long history with the team.
"With Yovani, I keep saying the guy knows how to win," Roenicke said. "Any time you get a pitcher out there that understands the game and what he needs to do to win ballgames -- it's not always ERA -- it's how you pitch when you need to win ballgames, and he knows how to do that."
Teheran lost his first Opening Day start after allowing two earned runs on seven hits in six innings. He walked only one batter and struck out two.
Three Brewers relievers finished the shutout. Brandon Kintzler pitched a perfect seventh, newcomer Will Smith worked a perfect eighth and Rodriguez -- not presumptive closer Jim Henderson -- struck out a pair of batters in the ninth for his 305th career save.
"They have good arms on that team and they know how to pitch," said Braves third baseman Chris Johnson. "They have some pitchers over there. They don't have many throwers. You have some guys who just know how to pitch. [Brewers catcher Jonathan] Lucroy knows how to call a good game, and they're tough. They're especially tough in their home ballpark."
For Braun, beginning the season at home meant he could launch his comeback among friends. He was asked his mindset entering his first regular-season game since last July.
"Ultimately to try to win a game, try to get off to a good start," Braun said. "I think in years past, we've gotten off to slow starts, and for all of us, the goal is to get off to a good start both individually and as a team so that we don't dig ourselves too big a hole during the season."