ST. LOUIS -- One of the reasons Miles Mikolas netted a multiyear deal this offseason, when so many more known, more domestic pitching quantities could not, was because the Cardinals weren't his only suitor. The Cubs also courted the righty, figuring he could fill up the strike zone and generate soft contact in blue and white the way he has thus far in red, which is to say at elite rates. With competition fueling his market, Mikolas eventually signed with the Cardinals, citing personal ties to St. Louis and Jupiter, Fla., the club's Spring Training home.
Five months later, almost to the day, Mikolas showed the Cubs what they missed. Mikolas continued his sterling return to Major League Baseball by blanking the Cubs for seven innings of Friday's 3-2 win, excelling in his first taste of this storied rivalry in front of 46,099 at Busch Stadium. The righty outpitched Jose Quintana to improve to 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA over six starts, including three straight in which he has not walked a batter.
The latest came against one of the first clubs to come calling after Mikolas' three sensational seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball. The Cubs were in contact with Mikolas' representatives "early" in the offseason, "but they kinda cooled off," Mikolas said. The club eventually added Tyler Chatwood and Yu Darvish to their rotation, while the Cardinals signed Mikolas to a two-year, $15.5 million deal.
"One point they were in there," Mikolas said of the Cubs. "I guess they didn't want me that bad. I guess they thought it would be more fun facing me than having me on their staff."
That certainly was not the case Friday, when Mikolas scattered seven mostly soft hits and allowed little else. Distributing a four-pitch mix essentially evenly, Mikolas cut, sliced and carved his way through three full turns through the Chicago lineup. Only five balls were well-struck enough to eclipse Statcast™'s 95-mph "hard-hit" exit velocity benchmark. The bulk of the rest were tapped harmlessly into the grass; Mikolas recorded 12 of his 21 outs on ground balls.
"It was moving in every direction," Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. said. "I don't like giving pitchers a lot of credit, but he did well and there's a reason he's 4-0. His stuff was electric."
But the key to Mikolas' effectiveness, as it has been so often this season, was his command. More notable than Mikolas posting his fourth straight start of at least seven innings was that he required fewer than 100 pitches for the fourth straight time. Friday he threw 95, with 67 going for strikes. He has not walked a batter in 21 consecutive innings. His walk rate leads all Major League starters.
"There is nothing not to like about this guy," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's pretty unique when you're getting to the fourth time through the lineup, and you're still showing hitters something new."
Lifted after Kristopher Bryant poked a double down the right-field line leading off the eighth, Mikolas watched as Tyler Lyons and Luke Gregerson navigated the heart of the Cubs' lineup to preserve a 3-0 lead that Tommy Pham's second-inning homer provided. The Cubs inched closer with two runs off closer Bud Norris in the ninth. But Norris retired Bryant with the tying run aboard to give the Cardinals a win in the opener of this three-game set, and Mikolas a victory against the club with whom he could've rebooted his big league career.
"It makes you feel good inside but I think it's a bigger win for the team it being a rivalry like it is," Mikolas said. "It's great to go out and have a good game against them."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Pham goes bam: By catcher Willson Contreras' reaction to the 2-0 fastball Quintana threw Pham in the second, the catcher called something else. And he wished Quintana threw something else, because Pham deposited the heater beyond the visitors bullpen in left field.
"Tommy was the difference-maker today," Matheny said. "We needed the big hit and tonight that was enough."
'Getting the job done': Norris survived for his seventh save in seven chances by breaking Bryant's bat on a groundout to end the game. Norris allowed two runs on three hits to bring Bryant to the plate with the tying run aboard.
"No big deal, still need to make a big pitch there to get out of it," Norris said. "It's about winning the game and getting the job done, so I'll take it."
Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Pham's final big league promotion, the one that stuck after Pham spent parts of 12 seasons in the Minors. Since he was recalled, Pham has hit .307/.415/.518 with 28 home runs and 31 stolen bases.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Matheny initially called upon Dominic Leone to wiggle through the eighth, not Gregerson. But Leone left the game after experiencing biceps cramping during his warmups. Leone said his biceps "balled up" on him, and he said he was removed for precautionary reasons.
"We're not looking at anything Major League [severe] here," Leone said. "It's something we'll handle day-to-day."
HE SAID IT
"They figured they'd take their chances, but it's a great organization. I heard a lot of great things about them. Had it come down to crunch time, it would've been one of those tough decisions. But I'm glad I landed here. I love it and I'm having a lot of fun." -- Mikolas, on signing with the Cardinals instead of the Cubs
Luke Weaver (2-2, 5.17 ERA) takes the ball when the rivalry against the Cubs continues with a Saturday matinee, set for 1:15 pm CT at Busch Stadium. The righty is winless across three starts in his young career against the Cubs, who handed him his first loss this season. Tyler Chatwood (2-3, 2.83) throws for Chicago.