"We lost quite a few games like this last year," said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, "so I think it's a great sign that we were able to win a game like this, this year. I think that will be encouraging for all of us moving forward."
The Brewers won on catcher Jonathan Lucroy's sacrifice fly in the 10th despite Gallardo's five labored innings against the only National League team he's never defeated, and despite Axford's blown save in the ninth. They snapped a four-game losing streak on Opening Day.
That streak was on the verge of ending back in the ninth inning, when Axford inherited a 4-3 lead and struck out the first two Colorado batters he faced with a stream of 94-95 mph fastballs. Quiet for most of the afternoon aside from Norichika Aoki's third-inning solo home run, the Brewers had just touched Colorado reliever Wilton Lopez for three runs in the eighth, an inning extended when Aoki hustled to beat a double-play turn with two outs.
Rickie Weeks followed with a single that pushed Aoki to third, Braun hit a run-scoring infield single to shortstop that bobbled just enough inside Troy Tulowitzki's glove, and Aramis Ramirez followed with a two-strike, two-run double down the left-field line on the seventh pitch of his battle with Lopez.
Enter Axford, whose midseason struggles last year temporarily cost him the closer's job. He looked sharp at the start on Monday, but after striking out Eric Young Jr. on a fastball away for the second out, Axford tried the same pitch against Dexter Fowler. This one was misplaced. Fowler was waiting for it.
His home run tied the game at 4 and helped send the teams to extra innings. It was only the second Opening Day extra-inning game in Brewers history -- the other was a road win at Wrigley Field in 2008.
"Ambush," Lucroy said. "It was probably my fault right there -- we should have thrown a curveball on the first pitch."
Said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke: "That's what the guy is there for in that situation. Two outs, he knows he has to look for one pitch. I'm sure most guys are looking for a fastball, and we gave it to him waist-high and right down the middle. That's good hitting on [Fowler's] part. He still has to catch up with a pretty good fastball."
The Brewers won in the 10th against Rockies right-hander Adam Ottavino. Weeks was hit by a pitch, and when he stole second base, Ottavino intentionally walked Braun, then unintentionally walked Ramirez to load the bases. Lucroy batted with the winning run at third base and one out and lifted a winning sacrifice fly to center field.
"I still feel plenty confident," Ottavino said. "It just stinks to lose the first game, especially when you're on the mound to do it."
That both teams suffered a blown save on Opening Day was unfortunately fitting. The Brewers led the Majors last season with 29 blown saves, a franchise record. The Rockies were second with 27.
On his 30th birthday, Axford fell to 0-for-2 in Opening Day save opportunities. He surrendered four runs in Cincinnati two years earlier and lost on a three-run Ramon Hernandez home run.
"Obviously, it looks like Opening Day save opportunities aren't my thing right now," Axford said. "But it definitely turned out better than it did two years ago. … I felt great out there. It was just one pitch. It definitely was [a mistake], just up and got more of the plate than it should have. Definitely the wrong pitch at the time, too. It just took one pitch to tie it up at the time, and [Fowler] and I knew it, too."
Given what Axford went through last July, does Roenicke worry about Monday's letdown getting in his head?
"I hope not," Roenicke said. "Two years ago he opened the season like this -- with a home run -- and came back and was lights-out the rest of the season. That's what I'm hoping for."
The Brewers are banking on a similar bounceback for Gallardo, who needed 96 pitches for five innings and surrendered three runs on 10 hits, including Tulowitzki's two-run homer in the third inning and Carlos Gonzalez's solo shot in the fifth. Both hitters connected with fastballs.
Gallardo topped out at 92 mph on Monday and didn't exceed 91 mph on the Miller Park radar gun after the second inning.
"I think he was a little off, but I give a lot of credit to him because he still kept us in the game," Lucroy said. "The only runs they had in the whole game today were on homers -- that was it. … With 'Yo,' obviously it's early in the year and that's not the Yovani Gallardo we know. He's a lot better than that, and it says a lot to how good he is that he only gives up three runs."
Home runs were just as troublesome for Gallardo in the spring, when he surrendered at least one in four of his five Cactus League starts.
"We won, who cares about the way I pitched?" Gallardo said. "That's the way I look at it. Obviously, I wanted to do better and get deeper in the game, but the main thing is getting the 'W.' Getting that first win sometimes is the hardest."