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CHC@MIL: Gallardo fans nine over seven solid innings

MILWAUKEE -- Yovani Gallardo delivered his Major League-leading 21st quality start, Ryan Braun hit his National League-leading 34th home run and John Axford struck out the side in the ninth inning for a 3-2 win over the Cubs on Wednesday at Miller Park that capped a three-game series sweep.

For one picture-perfect afternoon, it felt like 2011 all over again.

"It definitely did," said Axford, who worked around a two-out single for his second save in as many games. "I didn't always have clean innings last year, maybe a walk, maybe a hit, and that's exactly what happened today."

But this year is different, of course. After winning 96 regular-season games and going all the way to the NL Championship Series in 2011, the Brewers are nine games under .500 and out of the NL Central race in 2012. Gallardo and Braun are having their usual solid seasons with only personal statistics at stake. Axford has nine blown saves and just this week reasserted himself as the team's closer.

But six weeks remain, and Axford insisted the Brewers intend to play them right.

"There's no give up with any of these guys in here," he said. "When we focus together as a team like we did all of last year, good things happen, and good things happen to individual people. ... We definitely want to focus together and finish the season strong, because a lot of guys are coming back and you want to have a good note to end the season on."

Braun drove in two runs and scored twice to back Gallardo, who struck out nine batters while allowing only two runs in seven strong innings to win his fifth consecutive start.

Gallardo had a busy week. He pitched against the Phillies on Friday, then returned home to Fort Worth, Texas, to be with his mother, Eulalia, who was hospitalized with an illness. Her condition improved, and Gallardo returned to Miller Park on Monday for his between-starts bullpen session, then pitched as scheduled on Wednesday with the Brewers bidding to sweep their third home series in the past three weeks.

Gallardo finished the job, surrendering solo home runs to David DeJesus (leading off the game) and Bryan LaHair (leading off the seventh inning) but only two other Cubs hits. Seven of Gallardo's nine strikeouts came on called third strikes.

Asked about working amid a family emergency, Gallardo said, "It's not easy for anybody, but you have to be tough, find a way to get the job done no matter the situation. ... It was tough, a little bit. But I'm very thankful for the club to allow me to go home after my last start for a couple of days and just see how things were going. That relaxed me a little bit in preparation for today."

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke could see it.

"He looked good yesterday. He looked good going into the game," Roenicke said. "And after the first batter, he was really good. Any time he's out there, we feel pretty good."

Gallardo's mother has been released from the hospital, he said.

"She keeps getting better every day," he said.

It was Gallardo's fifth consecutive start of at least seven innings, and he has a 2.02 ERA in that span. The Brewers are 16-10 this season when he pitches.

"He's been dominating the last couple of months," Braun said.

Gallardo's last two performances have been especially impressive, Braun said, because of the family concerns in the back of the pitcher's mind.

"This game is hard enough as is, and you add in some additional issues that you're dealing with, and those things are definitely distracting," Braun said.

Braun hit one of the Brewers' three doubles in a two-run first inning against Cubs starter Travis Wood and added insurance with a solo home run in the sixth. Braun's 34th homer surpassed his total from 2011, when he won the NL MVP Award, with 39 games remaining in 2012.

It extended the Brewers' lead to 3-1, moments before LaHair made it 3-2 with his first home run since July 4. Gallardo got through the rest of the seventh inning without further damage, and Jim Henderson and Axford covered the final two innings.

Wood matched Gallardo by working seven innings and allowing three Brewers runs on six hits. But Cubs batters struck out 13 times Wednesday and a whopping 37 times in the three-game series.

"We've got to start grinding at-bats and learn how to foul balls off and get to another count and get to another pitch," manager Dale Sveum said. "There's too many uncontested strikeouts, and we're not battling and fouling balls off. We've got to get better than that."

The Brewers will now try to take their hot streak on the road. They are 38-28 at Miller Park and 19-38 everywhere else.

First, there was time to savor a sweep.

"We haven't been on the right side of too many sweeps this year, so that was nice," Braun said.

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