MILWAUKEE -- The importance of the Brewers' first stretch of games following the All-Star break is not lost on starter Yovani Gallardo. When he took the mound for the series finale against the division leading Pirates on Sunday, he knew it was a game that -- as manager Ron Roenicke put it -- Milwaukee needed to win.That pressure didn't seem to faze Gallardo, who set a career high with 14 strikeouts in a crucial 4-1 win at Miller Park. Gallardo surrendered just four hits and one earned run before leaving the game to a standing ovation after striking out Rod Barajas to end the top half of the seventh. "Real good game," Roenicke said. "Downhill with his fastball, life on it, command. Curveballs were good, cutters were good. That's the type of game that we get excited about when 'Yo' throws like that." In his first start since July 6, Gallardo earned his second straight win to move to 8-6 on the year. And although some pitchers come back rusty after extended time off, Gallardo welcomed the rest. It showed early and often, as the right-hander started the game striking out two batters in each of the first five innings. The one run he allowed came on Andrew McCutchen's home run in the top of the fourth, but even that was a case of a good hitter connecting on a good pitch, Gallardo said. Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado could tell from the very beginning of Sunday's game that Gallardo was poised for a big outing. And with all of Gallardo's pitches working for him, Maldonado said it was an easy day behind the plate. "During the first inning, the way the ball was coming out, it felt pretty good," Gallardo said. "But yet again, you can't rely on pure stuff. You still got to go out there and pitch and mix pitches with the game plan you had before the game." Offensively, the Brewers' game plan was ineffective for much of Sunday's game, as Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett dominated the Milwaukee lineup through the majority of five shutout innings to start the day. However, less than 24 hours after a couple of Brewers errors proved costly in a loss, the Pirates returned the favor in the bottom of the sixth. Center fielder Nyjer Morgan led off the inning with a single that was followed by another base hit from left fielder Ryan Braun. After fielding the ball, Pirates right fielder Garrett Jones made an errant throw toward second base, allowing Morgan to come all the way home to score and tie the game, while Braun advanced to third. For Roenicke and his players, it was nice to see luck on the side of the Brewers for a change. "That's what a lot of teams did against us in the first half," Braun said. "Hopefully when teams make mistakes, we're able to take advantage of them. That was the difference today." After that, the Brewers never looked back. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez scored Braun with a single in the next at-bat, before eventually coming around to score on a double by second baseman Rickie Weeks. The play was originally ruled an error on Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez, but was later changed. The inning was capped by an RBI double from catcher Martin Maldonado, who finished the day 3-for-4 with a pair of two-baggers. Maldonado finished the series with eight hits and has been a steady force for the Brewers while Jonathan Lucroy recovers from a fractured hand. "He is swinging the bat great," Roenicke said. "He's surprising everybody with what he's doing out there. He's been very good defensively; we thought he would be. But offensively, really good at-bats." After emphasizing the importance of this stretch during the break, Roenicke said taking two of three from the Pirates was a "huge boost" for his team, which has now won or tied four straight series and sits 7 1/2 games behind Cincinnati in the NL Central entering Sunday night's game. "I like what we're doing," Roenicke said. "I like the at-bats, the pitching's been very good, and we made some nice solid plays on defense. These three games, I liked all three of them. ... Trying to win the division when we feel like we've got three contenders coming in, it's our chance to make a move and get closer. And if we can play ball like this, we're going to be OK."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.