Gallardo spotless, nets Crew's fifth straight

Gallardo spotless in final start

MILWAUKEE -- Yovani Gallardo reached a milestone on Sunday in his final 2009 start. So did Prince Fielder, who would rather be talking about a pennant race than franchise records.

Gallardo whiffed seven Astros to become the fourth Brewers pitcher to amass 200 strikeouts in a season, and Fielder drew his 100th walk to set his second club record in as many games. Fielder also hit his 40th home run, one of three Brewers homers in a 6-0 win over the Astros that capped Milwaukee's three-game sweep.

The Brewers won for the eighth time in 10 games but nonetheless faced formal elimination from the National League Central race on Sunday night if the Cardinals beat the Cubs.

"[Records] are great, but winning is the most important thing," said Fielder, who scored a pair of runs a day after setting the franchise RBI record. "We're just going to finish the season strong and see what happens next year."

Gallardo is already finished. After a disappointing outing at Wrigley Field last week, the Brewers granted him one more limited start, a move to protect the 23-year-old from a huge spike in workload this year. After losing all but four regular-season starts in 2008 to a knee injury, Gallardo rebounded in 2009 to go 13-12 with a 3.73 ERA in 30 starts and 185 2/3 innings.

That includes his fine finale on Sunday: five scoreless innings, three hits, three walks, seven strikeouts. He exited after throwing 77 pitches.

"Going out there, I knew it was the last start and I was going to go at the most five innings," Gallardo said. "It's tough, but to end on a good note is always good. We got a win, and I finished the year strong." Gallardo caught Astros starter Felipe Paulino (2-10) looking at a fastball in the second inning for his third strikeout of the game and his 200th of the season. He struck out Michael Bourn for the second time to end the inning, and a sleepy crowd of 30,024 acknowledged Gallardo's achievement when it appeared on the scoreboard.

He finished the season with 204 strikeouts to join Ben Sheets (who set a franchise record with 264 strikeouts in 2004), Teddy Higuera (who notched a pair of 200-strikeout seasons) and Doug Davis as the only pitchers in club history to break 200.

"It's important to me," Gallardo said. "I'm sure every guy in here has goals, whether that's hitting .300 or getting 20 wins or 200 strikeouts. With not being able to pitch last year, being able to achieve [the strikeout milestone] is a big jump for me. Getting numbers like that, it helps you be more confident and prepared for next year."

Gallardo will remain with the team for the rest of the year to throw side sessions. Presumably, he'll make his next "real" start for the Brewers when they open the 2010 season at home against Colorado.

Brewers manager Ken Macha didn't think Gallardo was ready for the Opening Day honor earlier this year. Now, he thinks he's ready for that step.

"He's done some very good things," Macha said. "But there are some things that need to get worked out with him if he's going to reach the potential that he does have. The stuff is there -- he's got No. 1 starter stuff -- but the command is not always there. He struggles with his release point, and he's leading the league in walks.

"So there are things that can be ironed out. When your No. 1 starter walks out of that bullpen, it's kind of like guys take the rest of the day off. [Gallardo] is not there yet, but after missing almost all of last year, he's thrown the ball very well."

Of his future as a bona fide ace, Gallardo promised he'll "be able to accept that role."

"I go out there and give my team all I've got every start, and I feel I have that kind of stuff," he said. "Obviously, there's little things I need to work on, which will only make me better. To be in a role like that at my age, it shows what the organization thinks of me."

On Sunday, Gallardo had plenty of support. Corey Hart hit a two-run home run off Paulino in the first inning, and Fielder followed two batters later with a solo shot for a 3-0 lead.

Jody Gerut added insurance with another solo homer in the fourth inning and hit an RBI double in Milwaukee's two-run eighth.

"It was real good," Fielder said of the early offense, "because [Gallardo] obviously settled in nice. It's always good to give your pitcher a little cushion, so he can relax out there. He had a great season."

Fielder, who was honored before the game for his franchise-record 127th RBI on Saturday night, set another club mark in the fifth inning on Sunday when he drew a two-out walk. It was his 100th walk this season, breaking Jeromy Burnitz's record from 2000. Before Sunday, the Brewers were the only Major League franchise without a 100-walk hitter.

The way Fielder sees it, the records are related.

"Anytime you wait for a good pitch to hit, your chances to walk go up and so do your chances of getting a hit. They go hand in hand," he said.

Fielder still needs 10 home runs to match the franchise record he set in 2007, but with his shot on Sunday he became just the second player in Brewers history with a pair of 40-homer seasons. Richie Sexson hit a then-record 45 home runs in '01 and matched the feat in '03.

"He's got a chance to hit .300, too," Macha said of Fielder, who stands at .299 for the season. "That would be quite a year -- 40 home runs, 130-some RBIs and you hit .300. That's a tremendous year."

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