Milwaukee's brass and the team's fans can only wonder what might have been had prized young right-hander Yovani Gallardo not been sidelined most of this season because of two knee injuries.
That's why his somewhat surprising but welcomed starting assignment Thursday night against Pittsburgh provided a bittersweet moment.
The unassuming but steely competitive Gallardo, all of 22, was thrust into the spotlight in the heat of a pennant race and never flinched despite not having faced big-league hitters since May 1.
If that doesn't prove how important he is to the Brewers' present and future, nothing will.
Gallardo threw 67 pitches in his four innings of work, 40 of them for strikes. He allowed two hits—and infield grounder and blooper to left-center--in the first and a solo homer in the fourth, striking out seven and walking two.
He appeared strong from the get-go, which no doubt included plenty of adrenaline after not seeing action since his severe knee injury at Wrigley Field, where by the way, if Gallardo would have just stomped on Reed Johnson near first base instead of trying to avoid the sprawling Cubs runner he might not have blown out his ACL.
Enough of the bad memories. The former second-round draft selection showed what everybody has been missing since that fateful day in the Windy City, although Gallardo's nearly five-month break obviously added a couple of mph to his fastball that he didn't have before.
Still, he also proved how good he can be by throwing all of his pitches at any count while mostly baffling the pesky Pirates.
One can only imagine how different Milwaukee's season would have been with Gallardo taking the mound every fifth day. But then again, that more than likely would have precluded general manager Doug Melvin from pulling the trigger on the CC Sabathia trade. Or would he still have gone after more pitching at that point?
Too bad folks around the Badger State never got to find out.
The good thing is that Gallardo is healthy again and likely will be the team's new ace next season with the likelihood that Sabathia and Ben Sheets are headed for "greener" pastures in free agency.
But until that scenario plays out, the faithful should dream about what it could be like in 2009 with Gallardo, the big southpaw and/or Sheets back in the rotation. After all, if you're going to dream, you might as well dream big.