Brew Crew blast Diamondbacks

Yovani Gallardo could barely see the return tosses from catcher Jonathan Lucroy, losing them in the bright light filtering through the windows at Miller Park.

Milwaukee Brewer Prince Fielder is congratulated after hitting a two-run home run during the Brewers’ 4-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Brewer Prince Fielder is congratulated after hitting a two-run home run during the Brewers’ 4-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday in Milwaukee.

Brewers 4 Diamondbacks 1

MILWAUKEE — Yovani Gallardo could barely see the return tosses from catcher Jonathan Lucroy, losing them in the bright light filtering through the windows at Miller Park.

Imagine how the Diamondbacks felt.

Gallardo emerged from the shadows, outpitching Arizona ace Ian Kennedy as the Milwaukee Brewers kept winning at home with a 4-1 victory in their NL division series opener on Saturday.

“It was tough for me seeing the ball coming back, just having the sun there in the background. I was just hoping Luc didn’t throw one at my face,” Gallardo, who knew the shadows would play a role late. “When you have the lead, for myself, I was just going to keep going out and be aggressive knowing little things like that.”

Prince Fielder chased Kennedy with a two-out, two-run homer in the seventh inning, helping erase the stigma that the big slugger’s playoffs would be anything like 2008, when he went 1 for 14.

Same, too, with Gallardo.

The right hander retired 14 of 15 during one stretch, perhaps helped by how the shadows cut across the infield. With an early start time, the sun peeked through the retractable roof all afternoon, creating a crazy, changing pattern.

“I’ve played here almost two years now, so I’ve kind of gotten used to it. But I can imagine some of the guys on the other team, and the umpires, too, having problems with it,” Lucroy said. “It’s tough. It’s hitting different. Dark, light, dark coming down through the strike zone. It’s tough to see sometimes.”

Gallardo gave up one run and four hits over eight innings and matched a post-season franchise record with nine strikeouts.

Gallardo was only nicked by Ryan Roberts’ home run in the eighth, and won in his first post-season start since a Game 1 loss in the 2008 NLDS to Philadelphia. An all-star in 2010, he went 17-10 this season, yet is rarely mentioned among the elite pitchers in the game.

He’s even overshadowed — so to speak — on his own staff by 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.

“He’s been great his whole career, but I think if you look at the last month, he’s really taken a step forward,” Brewers star Ryan Braun said. “He’s been dominant. I think he’s thrown the ball better the last month than I’ve seen and I’ve seen him since we were in A ball together. I’ve gotten to see him throw a lot, and he’s really taken a step forward and I put him up there with any other ace in baseball.”

Game 2 is Sunday. Greinke will start for Milwaukee against Daniel Hudson.

Jerry Hairston Jr., playing in place of starter Casey McGehee, put the Brewers ahead for good in the fourth with a sacrifice fly set up by Fielder’s double.

Braun, who fell just short of the NL batting title, contributed three hits. The all-star left-fielder also threw out a runner at the plate in the first inning as Milwaukee’s shaky defence was suddenly solid.

John Axford of Simcoe, Ont., pitched a perfect ninth for his first save after converting his last 43 in a row in the regular season. The Brewers started 1-0 at Miller Park after winning a major-league best 57 times at home during their run to the NL Central title.

Gallardo was at his best over his final three starts and reached more than 200 strikeouts for the second straight season. He never made a mark in the post-season in 2008 because he need surgery and missed almost five months after tearing a ligament in his right knee.

“It was even tougher for me. It’s my second start coming after surgery. There’s a lot going on,” Gallardo said. “I was nervous. Having the opportunity here today, it helped me out a lot.”

Gallardo got out of a first-inning jam thanks to Braun’s throw, then cruised until Willie Bloomquist singled in the sixth. Hairston ended that inning when he scooped up a weak grounder to third base by Justin Upton and threw him out as he tried sliding into first.

In the seventh, Lyle Overbay drove a ball to deep centre field where Nyjer Morgan gathered it at the warning track before slamming into the wall to end the inning.

Fielder hit his second post-season home run in the seventh after Braun doubled, making it 4-0. Fielder finished 2 for 4, already topping his ’08 disappointment.

“In ’08, in my mind, it was a one-game playoff every day. I felt if we lost, the series was over every time, today I was just, like I said, enjoy it. We’ve got a five-game series,” Fielder said.

The Diamondbacks decided not to walk Fielder, who had 38 homers and 120 RBIs in the regular season.

“I’m not going to do that,” Kennedy said. “I just hung that curveball.”

Fielder and his teammates celebrated in the dugout after the shot that broke open the game. The fans also hailed Fielder — a free agent-to-be, he’s already said this is probably his last season in Milwaukee.