PITTSBURGH -- Where would the Brewers be without rookie right-hander Yovani Gallardo? "We'd be right here in Pittsburgh," manager Ned Yost cracked on Tuesday afternoon. True, but would they be guaranteed another day atop the National League Central? Would they be celebrating a 6-1 win over the Pirates at PNC Park, a place in which they have not exactly enjoyed success?
They'll never know, because Gallardo did not allow a run for the second straight start, this time shutting out the Pirates over six innings and leading the Brewers to an uplifting win that evened the three-game series with Wednesday's rubber match remaining. Prince Fielder hit his National League-leading 44th home run, Corey Hart hit No. 21 and Ryan Braun drove in three runs for the Brewers, who rebounded from a 9-0 loss in Monday's series opener and moved one game ahead of the Cubs -- who lost to the Astros, 5-4, in extra innings -- atop the division. "We've been doing that all year long," manager Ned Yost said of his resilient team. "We'll play a rough game, then come back and grind it out. It all starts with the guy batting ninth in your batting order." That would be Gallardo (8-4), who allowed six singles and three walks but struck out seven batters and stranded a runner in scoring position in four of his six innings of work. Gallardo's best escape came in the fourth. After Fielder put the Brewers on the board in the top of the inning, the Pirates were threatening to snatch the lead back, loading the bases with one out. Gallardo induced a double-play grounder by Pirates catcher Ronny Paulino. "It was important," Gallardo said of that play. "I got into some jams there in a couple of innings, but I was able to get out of it. It was one of those things where I had to focus a little bit better and make a pitch." "Double plays are huge," Fielder said, "and that was a big one. When he has to, he kind of locks in and makes his pitches." Fielder helped Gallardo's cause. His homer was a long solo shot in the fourth inning off Pittsburgh starter Bryan Bullington (0-2) that snapped a scoreless tie and left Fielder one shy of the franchise home run record. Gorman Thomas set the record hitting 45 home runs in 1979 and Richie Sexson matched it in 2001 and 2003. Does Fielder ever sit back and admire his own statistical accomplishments? He leads the Brewers with 44 home runs and 105 RBIs and is among a handful of favorites for the NL MVP Award. "That's for the offseason," Fielder said. "First you try to win. I would be happy [to set the record], but it is not a personal goal of mine." The Brewers tacked on three more runs in the sixth and two in the seventh courtesy of Braun, who hit a 3-and-2, outside pitch from Pirates reliever Salomon Torres to right field for a two-run single. The second runner to score on the play was Rickie Weeks, who went 3-for-4, reached base four times and stole a pair of bases. "That's a great piece of hitting," Yost said of Braun, who pushed his RBI total to 82. "That ball was six [or] eight inches off the plate, and it just shows you right there that good hitters find ways to put the ball in play. That's what he did. "It wasn't pretty, but it was a back-breaker." It helped ensure a win for Gallardo, who has thrown 90 1/3 innings in the big leagues and 168 total innings this season. He pitched 155 innings in the Minors last year, and with his next start, could move into the danger zone in terms of putting too many innings on a young arm. With the Brewers in a pennant race this late in the season for the first time in 15 years, the team appears set to ride Gallardo as far as he can go. "We're gonna just go right now," Yost said of his plans. Meaning, Gallardo will continue to start. The way he has pitched of late, how could he not? Gallardo has surrendered two runs and 17 hits in 20 innings over his last three starts for a 0.90 ERA over that span. "I felt really good with him out there, to the point I almost wanted to send him out there in the seventh inning," said Yost, who instead used pinch-hitter Laynce Nix in Gallardo's spot with one out in the top of the seventh. "I just don't want to abuse him right now," Yost said. "He's too valuable a person on our staff and for our organization. We had a nice little lead at that point, our big [bullpen] guys were rested and it just didn't make any sense to send him back out." According to the official box score, Gallardo threw 105 pitches, 72 of them strikes. "That's not a lot for a pitcher of his caliber," Yost said. "But at this time of year, I don't want to senselessly abuse him." Gallardo said he understood. "I understand the whole situations with innings, trying to keep my innings down," Gallardo said. "Whatever they ask me to do, I'm here to do it. ... I felt fine after six innings. I left it up to [Yost]." Asked before the game about Gallardo's mental makeup, Yost didn't have to struggle to find a way to compliment the youngster. "It's hard to find a kid that's 21 years old and has that much moxy and savvy," Yost said.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.