Baseball returned today, with some 46,000 fans packing into Miller Park to watch the Brewers face the hated Cardinals, and with it the return of tailgating and sausage races in earnest. The weather was excellent for the beginning of April, and the excitement and energy of the crowd still tangible through a TV screen or Twitter feed. If Joe Attanasio's rendition of the national anthem before a huge, cheering, partially intoxicated mob of Brewers fans didn't signal the return of baseball (and life), Yovani Gallardo's first pitch strike certainly did.
Alas, the rest of the game wasn't so glamorous. The Brewers did start the game with two first-inning runs, but the bats went dormant for much of the rest of the game. Gallardo survived the first inning, but would only record eight more outs, allowing six runs before being removed in the fourth. The club's two biggest offseason acquisitions, Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez, combined to go 0-for-8, and Ryan Braun, still riding a wave of good will from his exoneration, went 0-for-5 in what turned into an 11-5 loss.
It simply wasn't Gallardo's day: Yovani struggled throwing strikes, walking five batters and throwing strikes on just over half of his pitches (45 strikes on 89 pitches, or 50.56%). Being behind in the count so often, compounded with problems keeping the ball down in the zone, led to Gallardo being hit hard, to the tune of four home runs in three-and-two-thirds innings. In addition, Gallardo's velocity was down slightly: His average fastball sat at 91.22 mph, compared to 93.04 mph for his career and 92.05 mph in April (thanks to Brooks Baseball for the data and strike zone map). Gallardo had a slightly different take in his postgame comments: "I just sucked."
Gallardo's pitches, with location and result, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
The bullpen struggled to keep the Cardinals offense at bay as well. Marco Estrada took over for Gallardo and was very effective, entering the game with runners on and going an inning-and-a-third scoreless while drawing a good number of swinging strikes. Manny Parra followed with two innings of two-run ball (one earned). Despite the results, Parra looked good in his return, getting his fastball up to 94 and striking out two. Parra's command wasn't great, but he threw enough strikes to get by, and certainly had better control than we've seen from him in the past. (Unfortunately, Parra has been looking like a good pitcher in spite of poor results for as long as he's been in the majors.) Tim Dillard also was hit hard, allowing three runs in two innings of work.
At the plate, the Brewers fared better, with the oh-fers from Braun, Ramirez, and Gonzalez being mitigated by strong performances from their teammates. Mat Gamel and Jonathan Lucroy, coming off strong Cactus League seasons, each added two hits, as did Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez. Weeks started the bottom of the first with a single off Jaime Garcia, and scored on a triple by Gomez the next at-bat. George Kottaras had a pinch-hit, 3-run homer in the ninth inning, even if the game was as good as done by then.
The Brewers could have had a much better start to their season. In fact, you couldn't do much worse than suffering a blowout loss at the hands of your division rival/arch nemesis. However, this is not the end of the world or the Brewers' season. Remember Opening Day last year? The Crew lost to the Reds on a walk-off home run, thanks to a complete implosion by John Axford. According to some, that was supposed to be the beginning of the end for the 2011 Brewers, and that club turned out OK. Sure, Gallardo didn't have a great game, but the Brewers play again tomorrow, and Zack Greinke is going to start. Things are going to be fine.