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MIL@CHC: Kottaras jacks a two-run homer to right

CHICAGO -- Yovani Gallardo was himself again after a shaky season opener, and catcher George Kottaras saved the Brewers from getting Dempstered.

You deserve your own verb when you own a team like Dempster has owned the Brewers through his career, but it seems Milwaukee is turning the tide. After beating the glove-waggling Cubs right-hander twice last season, the Brewers on Wednesday rode Kottaras' two-run home run, Gallardo's strong start and some nail-biting relief to a 2-1 win at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs had the tying run at second base in each of the final three innings against three different pitchers, but the Brewers held on for the third straight day. Milwaukee will aim for a four-game series sweep behind Zack Greinke on Thursday afternoon.

Left fielder Ryan Braun and right fielder Corey Hart, who sat out Wednesday, are expected back in the lineup for the series finale.

"We've got depth, and that's a huge part of our team," said Kottaras, who started Wednesday in place of another regular, catcher Jonathan Lucroy. "Our team went out there and played great today."

Dempster entered last season with a 15-3 career record against the Brewers but has now lost three straight decisions. He worked with a 1-0 lead after the first inning Wednesday and had shut out the Brewers on three hits through the end of the sixth before Mat Gamel sparked Milwaukee's decisive rally with his second hit, a double, leading off the seventh.

Alex Gonzalez struck out, but Dempster threw a 2-1 slider into Kottaras' wheelhouse, and the catcher deposited it into the right-field bleachers for a 2-1 Brewers lead. Kottaras only got the start because Lucroy had a stiff muscle along his rib cage.

Braun was out of the lineup with the same minor ailment. Hart sat out to rest his surgically repaired right knee.

The Brewers' replacements did nicely. Gamel, who took over first base when Prince Fielder exited via free agency, had two hits and a nice defensive day. Norichika Aoki made his first Major League start as the left fielder and went 1-for-2 with a walk against Dempster, seeing 23 pitches in those three plate appearances and six more against reliever James Russell. Kottaras had two hits, including his second home run of the season.

That one swing made a winner of Gallardo, who struggled so mightily on Opening Day, allowing four home runs among seven Cardinals hits, and six runs, that the Brewers studied video to see if he was tipping pitches. They did not find anything.

He was much more effective against the Cubs, limiting the damage to one run on five hits -- four of them singles -- over seven quality innings. Gallardo walked two batters, struck out six and recorded 18 of his 21 outs either via strikeouts or ground balls.

"It's always huge," Gallardo said of his bounce back. "The start before today, obviously, it didn't go the way I wanted to. I had four days to work on what I wanted to work on." Gallardo worked on keeping the ball down in the zone and the rhythm of his delivery. He had "the best slider I've had in a while," a pitch that is part slider and part cutter, depending how hard he throws it.

The only trouble came in the first inning. Gallardo surrendered a booming leadoff double to David DeJesus, who eventually scored on Starlin Castro's sacrifice fly. That was the game's only run through six innings.

"Coming in after that first inning, I had to leave it there and not allow any more runs to come in," Gallardo said.

The Cubs mounted one last threat against Gallardo in the seventh inning, after Kottaras' homer had given the Brewers a 2-1 lead. Ian Stewart and Bryan LaHair led off with successive singles, but Gallardo struck out Geovany Soto with a slider and Marlon Byrd with a cutter, then retired pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt on an inning-ending grounder with a good, old-fashioned fastball.

"He reached back there when he got in a little trouble there in the seventh and dialed it up like I've seen him in the past," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "When he gets in trouble in any close game, he dials it up."

Said Kottaras: "We know what 'Yo' can do. He showed us in last year's postseason. We knew he wasn't going to let that one [Opening Day] start weigh too heavily on him."

Gallardo was out after 107 pitches, and Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford preserved the win. The Cubs had the tying run in scoring position against both.

Rodriguez worked around a pair of walks by striking out the side in the eighth inning, and Axford's second save was his 45th in a row during the regular season, the longest active streak in Major League Baseball. He needs two more to tie Brad Lidge for the fourth-longest saves streak in baseball history.

"When we go to 'Frankie' and 'Ax,' I like the outcome," manager Ron Roenicke said. "They may get some guys on base, but they make big pitches when you need a big pitch. They both can do it."

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