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MIL@PIT: Gallardo fans six over 6 2/3 scoreless

PITTSBURGH -- The question was whether the Brewers' missed opportunities in the early innings against the Pirates' A.J. Burnett would hurt them later on.

The answer was no, because of Yovani Gallardo.

Gallardo continued his late-season surge with 6 2/3 scoreless innings, and the Brewers ran wild on the basepaths to take the opener of a key series between National League Wild Card contenders, 6-0, at chilly PNC Park on Tuesday.

"I think every year he's finished really strong," said Ryan Braun, who drove in a run and scored another to back Gallardo. "He's been our go-to guy. It's continued this year, and it's been really impressive."

How's this for impressive?

Precisely one month ago, on Aug. 19, the Brewers were 12 games under .500 and 12 1/2 games behind the Pirates, who held the NL's second Wild Card.

Now, after 21 wins in 27 games, the Brewers are three games over .500 and one game better than the Pirates.

The Cardinals have since claimed the second Wild Card slot, and after beating the Astros on Tuesday, lead the Dodgers by 1 1/2 games and the resurgent Brewers by 2 1/2 games.

"The No. 1 goal was to get back to .500 and go from there," Gallardo said. "Everybody in here is not going to give up until the last game of the year."

Said Braun: "We just continue to believe. The second Wild Card gives everybody hope."

Braun & Co. did their damage 90 feet at a time, with 13 hits -- all singles -- and seven stolen bases for the team's best night on the bases since it stole a franchise-record eight on Aug. 29, 1992, against the Blue Jays.

Braun stole three bases on Tuesday and Norichika Aoki, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Rickie Weeks stole a bag apiece. This has been a problem for the Pirates all season; they have surrendered 137 stolen bases vs. 14 runners caught, and that includes a handful of pitchers' pickoffs.

"People have always perceived us as a team that relies on the home run, but we really don't," Braun said. "We're pretty good at running the bases. We have a lot of guys that can steal bases. If you rely on the homer, you really get yourself in trouble, so you try to find a way to manufacture runs sometimes, too."

That is precisely what they did on Tuesday, sacrificing a streak of 85 consecutive games with an extra-base hit, the second-longest such streak in franchise history.

They were singles machines instead. Aoki and Jean Segura led the way with two RBIs apiece, and Braun and Lucroy added run-scoring singles. With his 104th RBI, Braun temporarily tied San Diego's Chase Headley for the NL lead.

The Brewers had opportunities to score many more off Burnett, who needed 51 pitches to get through the first two innings, 35 of them with a runner in scoring position, but he limited the damage to two runs through the sixth.

"You know [the Pirates] came out ready to play," Gallardo said. "We're all in the same situation. I think the next two games are going to be the same way -- it's just that we were able to get a run from A.J. early and I was going out and making my pitches, staying with the game plan and keeping that lead."

Earlier this month, Gallardo had a very different kind of night against the Pirates, hammered for seven runs on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings at Miller Park on Sept. 2.

The difference on Tuesday?

"The fastball command, very sharp to left-handers," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Better downhill plane, better finish to the breaking ball. More or less, the complete package we've been watching on videotape, outside of that outing against us. He's been a force to reckon with in the second half."

Precisely. Gallardo is 8-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 10 starts since the team traded Zack Greinke to the Angels in late July. Gallardo leads the Majors in quality starts, with 25 -- one more than the Mets' R.A. Dickey. The Brewers are 21-10 when Gallardo takes the mound.

His biggest challenge came in the second inning, when the Pirates mounted a two-out rally to load the bases. Unfortunately, the batter was Burnett, who grounded out to Weeks at second base.

That began a streak of 14 consecutive batters retired by Gallardo until Neil Walker singled in the seventh. Walker advanced to second when umpire Chad Fairchild ruled that shortstop Segura had left the bag early trying to turn a double play, and the Pirates went on to load the bases with two outs when Gallardo walked pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez.

With Gallardo at 106 pitches, manager Ron Roenicke turned to reliever Jim Henderson, who fell into a 3-1 hole against another pinch-hitter, Michael McKenry, but brought the count full before inducing an inning-ending popup.

"I knew he was looking to tie the game up there," Henderson said. "I faced him earlier in the year and he was swinging at my fastball, so I went with three of four straight there, fell behind 3-1. I gave him the pitch he wanted to hit at 3-1, so I knew he was looking for the exact same pitch. When [Lucroy] put down the slider, I knew it was the right call, and I went with it."

Kameron Loe and Jose Veras preserved the shutout -- the ninth such victory for the Brewers this season -- over the final two innings.

"It was a good game," Roenicke said. "On the road, I think it's always important to see if you can come out and win that first game."

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