Gallardo lasted 6 2/3 solid innings Wednesday in the Brewers' 8-3 victory in the series' rubber match at Miller Park.
“A lot of people may not be familiar with him, [but] he is one of the best pitchers in the National League,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said about Gallardo, who allowed three runs, four hits and five walks Wednesday. “We knew it was going to be a challenge coming in.”
The Orioles (26-25) and Brewers (32-22) now have faced each other three times in interleague play, and in each instance, the home club has won two of three games.
Overall, the Orioles have dropped 11 of their past 17 and are again just one game over .500 on the season. They are now 4-3 in interleague games this season.
Gallardo (3-3), who was Tuesday’s hero with a pinch-hit, walk-off double in the 10th, hadn’t pitched since leaving his May 10 start with a sprained left ankle. On Wednesday, he struck out five and pretty much held the Orioles in check -- with the exception of slugger Nelson Cruz.
Cruz homered to right-center field in the second inning for the Orioles’ first hit. He picked up their second hit, too, a majestic clout in the sixth inning that smacked the batter’s eye wall in deep center. The multihomer game was Cruz’s second of the season -- the first coming April 23 against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre -- and 12th of his career.
“I’ve known Nelson for quite a while, and I haven’t seen him this locked in for this long,” Showalter said. “I think it bodes well.”
Cruz now has a major league-leading 19 homers in 193 at-bats, and he is on pace for 60 this season. His career high is 33 with the Texas Rangers in 2009. Cruz’s 48 RBIs are most in the American League and second in the majors behind the Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton.
During his current nine-game hitting streak, Cruz is batting .469 (15-for-32) with five doubles, seven homers, eight walks and 11 RBIs. His 12 home runs in May are the most for him in any month of his career. He said this could be the most locked-in span of his career.
“Maybe. Maybe in the minors, something like that, but not in the big leagues,” Cruz said. “I think the approach I’ve been taking the past few weeks has been pretty good.”
In a slight surprise, the Orioles scored a third run in the seventh without Cruz even coming to the plate. Nick Markakis doubled with two outs to chase Gallardo, and Manny Machado followed with an RBI single. The Orioles didn’t score again.
In the second, Norris gave up a two-run double by Ryan Braun, and in the third, the Brewers scored against Norris without getting a hit.
Gomez was hit by a pitch to start the inning, stole second base, moved to third on a fly ball and scored on a sacrifice fly to give the Brewers a 4-1 lead.
“The way it started, I guess, we should feel fortunate we could get six innings out of Bud,” Showalter said.
Norris (3-5) pitched three scoreless innings after the early struggles, giving the Orioles a chance to mount another comeback -- they had rallied in each of the first two extra-inning games against the Brewers, winning one and losing one.
“We pulled out of both of them, and [were] really close tonight. That’s not always going to be hunky-dory and everything fall in line,” Showalter said. “We could have very easily won two, and possibly three, games. I really like our chances if we can keep at 4-3.”
It was the fourth straight time Norris has lasted at least six innings, but also the third time in four outings that he has given up four earned runs. It pushed his ERA to 4.04, still the lowest of any Orioles starter.
“I’ve been pitching deep into ballgames all year. You want to do it. Stay out there as long as you can,” Norris said. “My pitch count did skyrocket the first few innings, but I did settle down, make an adjustment. To get through six was pretty nice.”
Once again Wednesday, the Orioles offense had to try and dig out of an early hole. So far this season, they have been outscored by 20 runs in the first four innings.
They got within one run in the seventh before the Brewers broke it open with a four-run eighth against relievers Brad Brach and Brian Matusz. The big blow was a three-run homer off Matusz by Brewers outfielder Khris Davis, who homered in each of the three games in the series.
“We didn’t make enough quality pitches as a staff,” Showalter said. “And we have to get a little more consistent there because it will take a toll on our bullpen.”
Showalter said he and his coaching staff will discuss bullpen moves on the plane to Houston, and that there was a chance that they would again add another pitcher from Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday.
“We have a couple of options coming our way, if we need it. We’ll sit down on the plane, see if we need to do something,” Showalter said. “It’s always possible when we are pitching four-, five- and six-inning starts and pitching in extra-inning games. It has a domino effect.”
If there is any bright side of losing two of three in Milwaukee, it’s that Cruz is continuing his push as the early favorite for AL Most Valuable Player. An impressive surge for a player that had to settle for a one-year contract this offseason after being suspended in last year’s Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.
“It’s fun to watch him. You get out of the way, and you have a few moments where you go, ‘Really?’ He makes it look easy, but it’s not, what he’s doing,” Showalter said. “But I am happy for him. And for us. I know what he has been through, and he will be the first to tell you it was self-inflicted. But he has come back in great fashion.”