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MIL@HOU: Gallardo strikes out eight over 7 2/3

HOUSTON -- It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty.

In other words, it was par for the course for the Brewers' bullpen.

Yovani Gallardo won his 10th straight start against the Astros thanks to an assist from reliever Jose Veras in the eighth inning and closer du jour Kameron Loe in a stressful ninth, good for a 5-3 Brewers win on Sunday at Minute Maid Park and a big confidence boost for a beleaguered bullpen.

Loe, the fourth different Brewers reliever to get a ninth-inning save opportunity in less than three weeks, stranded the tying run at second base for his first save of the season -- despite a hit, an ugly throw to first base, a wild pitch and two other pitches in the dirt. Only after Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez hit a game-ending groundout could Brewers manager Ron Roenicke exhale.

"These last two, three weeks, it seems like a long time where things are interesting in the eighth and ninth [innings]," Roenicke said. "It's hard. I feel for the guys. I like the guys that are down there, and I know how badly they want to do well."

The stakes were especially high on Sunday considering Gallardo had just held Houston to three runs in a season-high 7 2/3 innings, and that the Astros had already won the first two games of the series on walk-off hits.

Entering the weekend, the Astros had zero walk-off wins this season. They had three wins in their previous 27 games. And they had not swept a series since taking three games in a row from the Cubs during the third week of May.

"It would not have felt good at all," Loe said. "To at least pull one out in this series is a lot better than being swept."

The Brewers won on the road for the first time since the All-Star break, snapping an 11-game road losing streak.

There's nothing like a Gallardo start against the Astros to get things back on track. The right-hander has won against Houston twice in the last 13 days, and is 13-2 lifetime against the Astros with a 2.68 ERA in 100 2/3 innings.

Gallardo will be sorry to see the Astros go. They have one remaining series at Miller Park as a member of the National League Central before moving to the American League West.

"I really try not to look at the numbers like that," Gallardo said. "They made me work today. It seemed like it was a lot of 3-2 counts, and they were taking some good pitches and fouling off some good pitches. They've got some pretty good hitters."

A 10-pitch seventh inning bought Gallardo an opportunity to return to the mound for the eighth at 106 pitches with a 5-2 lead. He was in trouble after successive singles, but received a key assist from second baseman Rickie Weeks, who started a slick double play with a behind-the-back flip to shortstop Jean Segura.

That highlight-reel play helped Gallardo limit the damage to one run in the inning.

"I kind of knew that we were playing up the middle," Gallardo said. "I saw it go by me, and saw out of the corner of my eye that it was softly hit enough to where Rick was going to get to it. In that situation, getting two is always good. Segura and Rickie, that was a pretty good play. That wasn't easy."

Veras struck out Astros outfielder Ben Francisco to end the eighth inning, and it was Loe's turn in the ninth. He allowed a leadoff single to Fernando Martinez, struck out Chris Snyder and would have retired pinch-hitter Brian Bogusevic on a soft tapper to the mound with a good throw to first base. Loe spiked it in the dirt instead, and though replays showed it was a close play, Bogusevic was ruled safe, putting the tying run on base.

"It's tough to reward something that ugly, I guess," Loe said.

Loe struck out Tyler Greene, then threw a wild pitch that advanced both runners and pushed Loe to the brink of the Brewers' 23rd blown save this season. He escaped when Gonzalez grounded out to sure-handed third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

Loe was the third different pitcher to work the ninth inning in this series alone. John Axford blew his eighth save on Friday, and newcomer Jim Henderson pitched a scoreless ninth inning Saturday before losing in the 10th.

"There's been a learning process this year for a number of guys, myself included," Loe said. "You just have to accept the challenges that come along and take it with a smile and go out there and bust your butt very day. If they want to keep us on our toes, and they feel that is the right thing to do right now, we just have to accept that and keep doing our job."

The Brewers scored just enough against Astros starter Jordan Lyles and reliever Mickey Storey to avoid the sweep. Right fielder Corey Hart was 0-for-11 in the series with five strikeouts before he belted a long home run in the sixth inning, and Gallardo, Weeks, Ryan Braun and Martin Maldonado also drove in a run apiece.

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