ST. LOUIS -- When Yovani Gallardo took the mound at Busch Stadium on Wednesday night, the Milwaukee Brewers had good reason to think that their ace would match the St. Louis Cardinals' one in Chris Carpenter. Gallardo had thrown two great games in the first round (including the Game 5 clincher) and seemed poised to throw another.
But the Cardinals came out swinging and Gallardo came out flat, with the first five batters reaching and four eventually scoring. And those were all the runs St. Louis would need en route to a 4-3 win over Milwaukee in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals have won two straight for a 2-1 series lead, and they did it Wednesday by beating the Brewers' best pitcher.
"I think I was off the whole game," Gallardo said. "Even after that first inning, the four innings after that I was struggling. I was battling to put the ball where I wanted to."
The final line and numbers aren't pretty: Gallardo tied a Brewers postseason record with five walks and also tied an LCS record with three wild pitches, not exactly keys to success. He gave up four runs and eight hits in five innings. Considering the fact that the first four hitters of the game scored, it was an accomplishment that Gallardo was able to get through five innings.
"I think it's a sign of a good pitcher," said his catcher, Jonathan Lucroy. "Not all guys are going to be dominant all nine innings he's been good for us all year like that."
Entering the game, both teams had no reason to doubt that this would be a pitchers' duel. But Carpenter and Gallardo were off from the start, both struggling with command. In his first two starts this postseason (albeit against the Arizona Diamondbacks, considered an inferior team offensively to the Cardinals), Gallardo was 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA. He didn't get the decision in Game 5, but he proved he could perform in a high-pressure situation.
But for whatever reason, when he took the mound Wednesday, Lucroy could tell right away that Gallardo was too "amped up." He was 1-3 against the Cardinals this season and was 1-7 with a 5.66 ERA lifetime before Game 3. Gallardo was asked the day before his start why he's struggled so much against this team and said he had no answers. It was no different after the loss.
"It seems like it's going to be one way or the other, good or bad," he said. "As a starter you can't think of things like that, whether you're 6-0 against a team or 1-8."
Perhaps that was in his mind when he opened the first, perhaps it wasn't. But he started the game by giving up a leadoff single to Rafael Furcal, then threw what he said was a good pitch to John Jay, who doubled Furcal home. Then, on a first-pitch curveball (which was down in the zone), Pujols doubled home Jay. After that, Gallardo walked Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman. David Freese later doubled home Holliday. By the time the inning was over, Gallardo had thrown 33 pitches and the Cardinals had sent nine men to the plate. It was the first time Gallardo had allowed four or more runs in the first inning since giving up six to the Boston Red Sox on June 19.
"It's tough, especially in the first inning. You never want to throw more than 15 pitches in one inning, period," Gallardo said. "It's a pretty good lineup. They battle, and if you don't have command you're going to struggle."
After that first inning was finally over, Lucroy approached Gallardo in the dugout. He told him to calm down, relax, that the team needed him to keep them in this game. Gallardo, who is extremely quiet, said nothing. While none of his next four innings were clean, they were enough that when he left the game, his team was only down by a run.
"For Yovani to bounce back from that speaks volumes about his character," Ryan Braun said, "and is a great sign for us going forward. And hopefully he gets an opportunity to pitch again."
Which inherently is the issue. The Cardinals need only two more wins to move on to the World Series, and next up for the Brewers is Randy Wolf, who gave up seven runs in his only postseason start.
"Right now it's just a race to see if they win two or we win three at this point," Braun said. "I think we played a good ballgame overall [in Game 3] and just get ready for [Game 4]."
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.