Mikolas 1 strike (and inches!) shy of no-no

June 15th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- As the pitcher of the second game of a day-night doubleheader, Miles Mikolas was given a late reporting time, and he spent the first part of Tuesday walking his kids around the aquarium in downtown St. Louis -- even strapping 5-month-old Rhett to his chest in a child carrier.

No one recognized Mikolas or even asked the 6-foot-4, 230-pound pitcher to pose for a selfie -- not even the ones wearing red Cardinals hats. Little did those fans know it at the time, but the pitcher dressed as a doting dad would later go on to captivate the baseball audience at Busch Stadium with some Jaws-like intensity and drama for 8 2/3 innings.

Back to the form that he had in 2018 when he won 18 games and became an NL All-Star for the first and only time, Mikolas offered up the performance of a lifetime Tuesday. He was one strike -- and mere inches -- from the first no-hitter in Cardinals history since Bud Smith blanked the Padres in San Diego on Sept. 3, 2001. Also, Mikolas’ effort was nearly the first no-hitter by a Cardinal in St. Louis since Bob Forsch did it on Sept. 26, 1983. However, the no-hitter was not meant to be, as mid-game replacement Cal Mitchell drilled a liner over the head of Gold Glove center fielder Harrison Bader for the Pirates’ lone hit of the night.

St. Louis won 3-1 in the opener while the Mikolas family was at the aquarium, and it beat the Pirates 9-1 to sweep the doubleheader, but there was twinge of disappointment over being unable to finish off some Cardinals history. In much the same way Mikolas has pitched in tough luck repeatedly this season, the 33-year-old pitcher was forced to deal with disappointment even in the afterglow of the finest outing of his journeyman career.

“I was cruising and super excited about that game, and sometimes you catch them and sometimes you don’t,” Mikolas said of the one-hitter in which he spun over 8 2/3 innings while throwing a career-high 129 pitches. “We had made some great plays all game. What do you know, they hit a real good pitch real hard, and it happens.”

Statcast measured that catch probability at 20 percent on the batted ball that narrowly eluded the Statue-of-Liberty-colored glove of Bader, but the Gold Glover refused to accept those odds afterward. He was glum about not somehow finding a way to preserve the no-hitter.

“It was really close and it definitely stings, and I want to reel in every single play,” Bader said. “I don’t accept the fact that you can’t make every play. I don’t live like that, but next time, you try to be better.”

Added Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol: “If Bader doesn’t catch that ball, there’s no one in this league that could catch it. So, if you’re going to go down, that’s how you want to go down.”

Mikolas struck out six and walked one. He retired 17 batters in a row prior to Mitchell’s line drive that landed on the warning track. Even Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton was surprised Bader didn’t make the final catch to seal the no-hitter, saying: "I think every ball that's hit in the outfield, Harrison Bader's going to catch.”

Pittsburgh’s lone run came in the fourth after rookie Juan Yepez -- a converted first baseman playing left field to get his bat in the lineup -- misplayed a routine popup to allow Bryan Reynolds to reach safely. Almost always jovial and even “goofy,” as Marmol described his pitcher, Mikolas was the first to hug Yepez at the end of the inning.

Mikolas said he kept “staring at that zero,” referring to the number under the hits category for the Pirates on the scoreboard. Usually playful and talkative in the dugout, Mikolas said he didn’t enjoy teammates purposefully avoiding him.

“Normally I’m talking to guys in the dugout, asking them about pitches and what they thought, but I didn’t even bother asking them because no one would even turn and look at me,” Mikolas said. “That’s one of the things that stinks about it because I’m sitting there all by myself the whole game.”

The performance helped Mikolas lower his ERA to 2.62 -- an indicator of how well he has pitched despite his 5-4 record. It also is an indicator of how hard he’s worked to get back to an elite level following two injury-plagued seasons. Tuesday was another narrow miss for him, but he knows he is on the right track of being a dominant pitcher again.

“The stars were lined up for 8 2/3 today, and then they weren’t,” he said wistfully. “I’m sure I’ll be more upset later, but you can’t get upset about a game like that, I guess.”