Gallardo's remarkable return lifts spirits

Gallardo's return provides boost

MILWAUKEE -- Willis Reed. Kirk Gibson.

Yovani Gallardo?

So what if it's a stretch to lump Gallardo into that group? He will not be playing on a torn thigh muscle, like Reed did for the Knicks in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. And he will not be playing on two bum legs, like Gibson when he hit his famous home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Still, acting Brewers manager Dale Sveum believes his team will get a lift from seeing Gallardo back on the mound on Thursday night, starting a game that's key to Milwaukee's postseason hopes even though he's less than four months removed from major knee surgery.

"No doubt about it," Sveum said. "Sports is a momentum-type industry. In all sports, there's always one game, one play that you see that turns a season around."

Sveum's announcement that Gallardo would start Thursday's series finale against the Pirates came a day after Gallardo himself predicted he would pitch in relief, and expressed serious concerns about whether he could hit or run the bases. He has not pitched in a game since May 1 at Chicago's Wrigley Field, when Gallardo tangled with Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson while covering first base and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

The extent of the injury was not immediately known, and Gallardo stayed in the game to pitch parts of two more innings. An MRI scan the following morning revealed the ACL tear, and it was believed that Gallardo was out for the season.

Brewers officials did their best to downplay Gallardo's rehabilitation throughout the summer to avoid putting pressure on the 22-year-old. He pitched a series of live batting practices against Brewers hitters, then pitched two simulated games in the team's fall instructional league. He threw 75 pitches in his most recent outing on Friday.

"This is kind of what I had in mind all along," he said of starting Thursday against the Pirates. "I'm excited to get a couple of innings before the year is over. I thought it was going to be relief, just for the fact I wasn't swinging a bat."

Gallardo took batting practice alongside CC Sabathia on Wednesday and said he felt "fine" swinging, but he still has not run the bases. He expects to meet with Sveum for instructions on how to approach his at-bats.

What will Gallardo be capable of doing on the mound? He insisted he felt comfortable fielding his position, and Sveum mentioned 70 pitches as a possible goal.

"He'll go as long as he can," Sveum said. "Hopefully, they're all quick outs and he can go five innings. ... If we put him in the bullpen, who knows? We might not even be able to use him. He's a big-game pitcher. He's not a deer in the headlights and we feel like he can give us the best opportunity."

Pitching coach Mike Maddux was setting realistic expectations.

"Will he be in midseason form? No," Maddux said. "Will he go nine [innings]? No. That ain't going to happen. We just know he's going to go out there and give everything he's got."

It's Fan Appreciation Night at Miller Park, and every fan will get a white rally towel plus a voucher redeemable for a free ticket to select games during the 2009 season and a 2009 Brewers magnetic schedule. The Brewers will raffle off prizes throughout the game.

Pitching matchup
MIL: RHP Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 1.80)
The Brewers are rolling the dice to some extent with Gallardo, who has not pitched in a game since he tore the ACL in his right knee on May 1 at Wrigley Field. He underwent surgery and quietly rehabbed all summer, and the Brewers believe he'll be good for about 70 pitches against the Pirates. Gallardo is a fine hitter, but did not pick up a bat until Wednesday, so it will be interesting to see how he approaches his at-bats. He can also expect the Pirates to drop a bunt or two to test his mobility. Left-hander Manny Parra and right-hander Seth McClung will be on high alert in the bullpen should Gallardo need a bailout.

PIT: LHP Zach Duke (5-14, 4.96 ERA)
Duke's last start against the Dodgers was eerily similar to ones that preceded it. The left-hander strung together three goose eggs to begin the game, but was hit hard with a four-run inning. He would eventually be taken out after five-plus innings, where he allowed 11 hits and five runs. Duke has only one victory in the second half of the 2008 season. He'll look to close the year on a good note against the Brewers, who he is 3-4 with a 5.08 ERA against in his career.

Tidbits
The Brewers broke their franchise attendance record on Wednesday night, pushing this season's total to 2,893,685. They will cross the three million threshold before the end of the regular season. ... The Brewers have won 11 straight games over the Pirates, the second-longest streak in franchise history against any team. They beat the Marlins in 12 straight games from 1998-1999. ... Prince Fielder extended his hitting streak to 14 games with an RBI single in the fourth inning. ... Fielder and Ryan Braun are the first Brewers teammates to reach 100 RBIs in the same season since Richie Sexson (125 RBIs) and Jeromy Burnitz (100) in 2001. ... Right-handed reliever Todd Coffey went from a home-improvement project in North Carolina to the pennant race and has been a revelation in the Brewers' bullpen. Working with a 92-95 mph fastball and a biting slider, he has made seven scoreless appearances since Milwaukee claimed him off waivers from Cincinnati. "When it's all said and done, that might be the best acquisition we made all season long," Sveum said. ... Aside from his first-day introduction, Sveum has not felt the need to host any team meetings since taking over as manager. "These guys are grown men," Sveum said. "They don't need to be talked to every day."

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN Wisconsin HD

On radio
• WTMJ 620

Up next
• Friday: Brewers (RHP Jeff Suppan, 10-10, 5.06) vs. Cubs (Ryan Dempster, 17-6, 2.99), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Saturday: Brewers (RHP Ben Sheets, 13-9, 2.98 or RHP Dave Bush, 9-10, 4.25) vs. Cubs (Ted Lilly, 16-9, 4.17), 2:55 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Brewers (CC Sabathia, 16-10, 2.80) vs. Cubs (Jason Marquis, 11-9, 4.43), 1:05 p.m. CT

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