From fish to fingertips, how Mikolas came one pitch shy of Cardinals history | St Louis Cardinals

Every inning, Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux dutifully checks on his starter, offers a tip about his delivery or a thought on the strike zone. Early in Tuesday’s night game, Maddux mentioned to starter Miles Mikolas that he was holding on too long to his slider, yanking it instead of unleashing it, and Mikolas benefited from the tip.

He gained control of the slider and used it so well, so effectively, that he started noticing how Maddux stopped checking on him, at all. About the sixth inning, the pitching coach walked toward Mikolas, but turned back without saying anything.

Maddux paced nearby, like he had something to say, but didn’t.

No hits allowed meant Mikolas had no one to talk to.

“Honor the code here,” Maddux explained later. “We’ve got to honor the code.”

In a dazzling outing at the end of a sizzling day at Busch Stadium, Mikolas walked up to the brink of history, curled his toes over the edge, and still came up a few inches shy of the first no-hitter by a pitcher, any pitcher, in St Louis since 1983.

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With one out to get in the ninth inning, Mikolas’ 129th and final pitch escaped the diving reach of center fielder Harrison Bader and hopped over the wall for a ground-rule double. The Pirates’ first hit of the game, struck by a player who did not start the game, kept Mikolas from completing the first no-hitter by a Cardinal since Bud Smith in 2001, first ever at Busch III, and only the third in St .Louis in at least four generations.

“The stars were lined up for 8 2/3 today, and then they weren’t,” Mikolas said. “Can’t get upset about a game like that, I guess.”

Mikolas’ gem capped a doubleheader sweep by the Cardinals, one powered by an uncanny day from Paul Goldschmidt. The Cardinals’ designated hitter in Game 1, Goldschmidt’s two-run homer provided most of the runs in a 3-1 win that could have been cushier given the four errors from Pittsburgh steel-plated defense. In Game 2, Goldschmidt had two homers and five RBIs in his first two swings of the game, building a seven-run lead for Mikolas that would become a 9-1 victory.

Goldschmidt reached base five times in Game 2, finished the sweep with six hits, three home runs, and eight RBIs. In two days against the Pirates, Goldschmidt went nine-for-12 with nine RBIs and four home runs. He put together a 48-hour span that, according to STATS research, is matched only by Ty Cobb on May 5-6, 1925.

“It’s a joke,” manager Oliver Marmol said, in disbelief.

Oh, and Goldschmidt didn’t strike out.

It was a thunderous performance during a dominant doubleheader sweep that put the Cardinals ahead of 2 ½ games in the National League Central. The two pitchers the Pirates started the day 0-9 combined – and looked every bit of it.

Yet, because a no-hitter slipped from their grasp with one out to get the Cardinals left the ballpark with, as Maddux said, “a little bit of emptiness in us.”

“I joked that I’d never been as disappointed with a 9-1 win,” Goldschmidt said. “Miles pitched so great. He’s such a great guy and a great teammate. That would have been really special to be a part of. You could feel the energy from the fans – how bad they wanted it. They know what was going on. Disappointing. But it wasn’t meant to be.”

Said catcher Andrew Knizner: “I guess it was, ‘What could have been?’ Just the thought of that is heart-breaking in a way.”

Mikolas’ day began with a cool request.

As soon as his kids woke up they began talking about the aquarium, about visiting the aquarium. With temperatures expected to boil near 100 degrees, the air conditioning of the downtown aquarium seemed just right, and Mikolas did not have to report to the ballpark for the first game of the doubleheader. He was too busy ushering his kids from tank to tank, fish to fish, that he didn’t have much time to make eye contact with anyone else there, but he tried to avoid it, in case he was recognized.

“Half the people in the aquarium have a St. Louis cap on,” he said. “I’m sure they noticed me.”

He checked the score of the afternoon game as he and his wife, Lauren, piloted the family home for naps. He saw the five scoreless innings rookie Matthew Liberatore provided, and he caught some of the game on TV as Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos handled the late innings to secure the win.

And then he went to work.

Mikolas (5-4) retired the first three batters he faced. He hit a batter in the second inning but got a swift double play to end that inning. The only ball the Pirates got to the outfield in the first six innings was a fly ball misplayed into an error by rookie left fielder Juan Yepez. That error put Bryan Reynolds on second and allowed him to score on consecutive groundouts for the Pirates’ run. Mikolas would seek a breeze near the bat rack, where there’s a fan blowing in the dugout, and there he would chat with hitters.

He noticed fewer and fewer doing as Maddux did – avoiding him.

“No one would bother to turn and look at me,” the right-hander said. “That’s one of the things that kind of stinks about that. I’m kind of sitting there by myself.”

The zero on the scoreboard was hard to miss.

“Anyone who tells you that they’re not looking at that zero up there is full of it,” Mikolas said. “It’s easy to see. Everybody looks at the scoreboard for one reason or another. I was looking at it all game.”

With each passing, hitless inning, Mikolas flaunted what he and the Cardinals had been missing for several years – his health. Mikolas pitched through soreness in 2019 and led the league in losses. Forearm issues sidelined him in 2020, and he never felt at full speed or full strength in 2021. If the ease he appears to pitch with on the mound isn’t the biggest clue, the performances are. Mikolas has pitched at least six innings in eight of his 13 starts and allowed three or fewer runs in 11 of the 13.

“A healthy Miles is a happy Miles,” Maddux said. “And a workhorse.”

Knowing he had the backend of a doubleheader and the Cardinals must have relievers ready to spell Jack Flaherty in his return to the rotation Wednesday, Mikolas aimed to cover at least seven innings Tuesday. Marmol had 120 pitches in mind for a hard cap on the starter. Mikolas got through six no-hit innings on 81 pitches.

He finished the seventh on his 98th pitch.

Marmol stopped thinking about a cap.

Pittsburgh outfielder Cal Mitchell entered the game as a defensive substitute for Reynolds in the bottom of the seventh inning. Mitchell’s first at-bat of the game came with two outs in the ninth inning and Mikolas one out away from that zero he’d been eyeing going permanently. On Mikolas’ 128th pitch, a 96-mph fastball, Mitchell skipped a grounder that went just foul of third base. Mikolas went to a 76-mph curveball for the next pitch, and Mitchell tagged it to center field.

Playing shallow to avoid losing the no-hitter in front of him, Bader broke immediately toward the center field wall, his back to Mikolas. Gold Glove-winner Bader dove and the ball hooked just wide from his glove, just out of reach. It bounded over the wall for a ground-rule double.

“Really (bleeping) close,” Bader said.

“If he can’t get it, nobody can,” Mikolas said. “Except for maybe one of those guys in the stands when they have that three-foot glove. Maybe that guy.”

Mikolas, who will get an extra day of rest before his next start, handed the ball to Marmol so that lefty Packy Naughton could get the final out. The heart-wrenching ending wasn’t clear in either the tone or content of Mikolas’ post-game comments. He still sprinkled in a use of “festoon” to describe the buzz in the crowd. He said he had no moments of sentimentality or flashes of the route he took through Japan back to the majors and then through injury and back to the majors because he was just “trying to get outs.”

Before the ninth, by the fan, no one spoke to Mikolas. He wished he had more teammates to talk to in those late innings, but didn’t want to intrude on their superstitions, just as they didn’t want to intrude on his superb start. He did think some about his time at the aquarium with his kids. His favorite fish were the saltwater fish, just like off the coast back home in Florida.

“Made me want to go fishing,” Mikolas said in the clubhouse after the game.

And he did, taking the Pirates with him.

Almost hooked the big one, too.

Jack's back: Flaherty will start for Cardinals Wednesday after making pitch to management

Bader goes full speed ahead after receiving Marmol's message

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