Braun, Gallardo start fresh on Opening Day
Ryan Braun made his seventh Opening Day start on Monday afternoon at Miller Park, while starter Yovani Gallardo made his fifth.
They've both appeared in All-Star games and represented their countries in the World Baseball Classic. Braun has won a Most Valuable Player. Gallardo won Game 5 of the 2011 National League Divisional Series to send the Brewers to the NLCS.
Few teammates have such credentials, such history of success.
Yet, this Opening Day was different, almost brand new.
Braun made his first appearance in a game since July 21 of last year due to a season-ending suspension handed down by Major League Baseball for his use of performance enhancing drugs. Prior to that, he struggled with a variety of injuries that necessitated a trip to the disabled list.
Gallardo was coming off his worst statistical season as a major leaguer, a year affected by the death of his mother, an early-season arrest and his own trip to the DL.
The first day of any year proffers freshness and hope for a better future. Monday's 2-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves was that day for both, and they knew it.
Braun, who said he had the best batting practice of his life prior to the game, took that feeling to the plate in the first inning against Atlanta starter Julio Teheran. Then it was amplified by the rousing ovation from the 45,691 in attendance that drowned out his introduction over the public address.
"It was special," Braun admitted. "It was an emotional moment for me and I think I kind of allowed the adrenaline and emotion of the moment to take over and had a pretty horrendous at-bat, swung at some pitches I typically don't swing at, but it's something I'm very thankful for and appreciative of."
He flew out to left, but finished the day 1 for 4, including a single and a stolen base in the fourth inning that set up the eventual game-winning two-run double by Aramis Ramirez.
That was all Gallardo needed, as he went six scoreless innings before giving way for Brandon Kintzler, Will Smith and Francisco Rodriguez to finish off the five-hit shutout. He allowed six base runners (four hits, two walks) and struck out four, which moved him into second place on the franchise's all-time strikeout list.
But he needed some time to settle in, too.
"That has a little … just excited, you know," Gallardo said with a smile about his inconsistent fastball command early. "The extra adrenaline being out there, being game one, Opening Day, always factors in. It's always getting out of that first inning, you always tend to calm yourself down a little bit and just go about your business and the game plan that we had set."
Monday was just a game, one of many. The mantra of "one of 162" was uttered at least once. And it's true – the season was neither won, nor lost. It's not a predictor of things to come. But it meant quite a bit to both players, both individually and within the team.
"It's very important," Gallardo said of earning a win. "Obviously I'm excited. I'm a lot more excited than what it seems. But, I think just going in there today – I didn't want to have any extra pressure knowing that it was my fifth time and I've one win to show for it. Overall I think just winning the ball game was the key thing. You always want to start off the year on the right path and I was able to throw the ball well and it's just a matter of being consistent and keep using it until the next start."
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