MILWAUKEE — St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas needed a plumber and a dentist Monday, and that was all before the hard part: A showdown with the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes.
Some three hours before his latest marquee pitching matchup, Mikolas was flossing his teeth following his pregame meal and had a crown not only pop out of his mouth but also go down the sink drain at American Family Field. Because the crown was solid gold, the Cardinals had to have a technician turn off the water, unscrew the U-bend piping under the sink and fish out the tooth.
“I was down a crown,” joked Mikolas. “I had to put 50 cents in my back pocket to balance it out.”
That moment was indicative of how the night would go, as St. Louis and Milwaukee brought identical records into a four-game series, opened with a pair of aces and saw both of them meet the moment in the Brewers’ entertaining 2-0 win. Burnes didn’t surrender his second hit until the seventh inning of another outing befitting of a reigning NL Cy Young Award winner who is holding together an injury-riddled Milwaukee rotation. He threw seven scoreless innings, scattering two hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts for the 17th double-digit-strikeout performance of his career.
In his two starts against the Cardinals this season, Burnes has worked 14 scoreless innings with four hits, three walks and 21 strikeouts.
“There’s a little sense of the moment to deliver something big,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He knows that we’re starting off a big series. You’ve got our best guy on the mound, and he delivered a great start. That’s what you rely on from your ace, and Corbin delivers that quite frequently.”
Both times Burnes beat St. Louis this season, Mikolas was the opposing starter.
On Monday, Mikolas lost despite allowing two runs on four hits and two walks over 6 1/3 innings. In a matter of 12 days, he has lost after throwing an 85-pitch eight-inning complete game, he saw a no-hitter disappear when he was a strike away from completion and he fell to Burnes again.
“For me, every start’s the same, just sticking to my process and going throughout my routine and being as prepared as I can be so when I’m out there, it’s executing pitches and having fun,” Burnes said. “I don’t know if it’s because we’re playing the Cardinals, I’ve been able to do it a little more efficiently than I have with other teams.”
“That cutter is a really good pitch,” said St. Louis rookie Juan Yepez, who had both of the hits off Burnes. “I feel like it’s not even a normal pitch. You don’t see any rotation. It starts somewhere, and it just starts moving a lot and you can’t ever see a rotation.”
Forgive Mikolas right now if he is cursing his luck and wondering if he needs to throw a no-hitter — or a near no-no — to get a victory against yet another staff ace across the way. Just one start removed from pitching to within one out of that feat against the Pirates, Mikolas didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning or a run until the fifth, holding his ERA essentially steady at 2.64 but absorbing another tough-luck loss to an ace. He has already taken losses this season opposite Burnes twice, the Rays’ Shane McClanahan and the D-backs’ Merrill Kelly once apiece.
Monday’s outcome turned on one pitch: Mikolas’ 2-2 sinker on the outside corner to Tyrone Taylor in the fifth. Taylor, Milwaukee’s everyday center fielder with Lorenzo Cain designated for assignment over the weekend, lined it off the batter’s eye beyond the center-field wall for a two-run homer and the night’s first and only runs for either team.
“We all saw what [Mikolas] did in the last outing, and he was really good today,” Brewers catcher Omar Narváez said. “He was spotting almost every pitch, at least against me. It was a pretty good outing by both of these guys, and you see the result — it was an up and down game, a really close game.”
It was close all the way to the end. Devin Williams and Josh Hader finished Milwaukee’s fifth shutout victory of the season and St. Louis’ fifth shutout loss, with Hader returning from becoming a first-time dad for a tense ninth in which both teams got a call overturned via replay review.
But the standings represented only part of the context in which Burnes’ seven brilliant innings were vital. Milwaukee, which already had All-Star starting pitchers Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff on the injured list, found itself with another vacancy as of Monday when left-handed Aaron Ashby landed on the IL because of forearm inflammation.
Brewers newcomer Chi Chi González will start in that spot Tuesday night opposite Jack Flaherty.
“We basically just had to get up Devin and Josh tonight,” Counsell said. “So we’re in good shape to go after it.”
Mikolas may get another shot. St. Louis and Milwaukee still have three series remaining on the schedule.
First, he’ll have that crown fixed by the Brewers’ team dentist Wednesday.
“I thought if I was able to come into this season healthy and do all the things that I know I can do, I’d like to be in that conversation [of the best pitchers in baseball],” Mikolas said. “Obviously, there are a lot of really good pitchers that do a lot of incredible things — whether it’s striking guys out or getting weak contact. Everyone has different ways of doing it, but any pitcher would like to be in that conversation.”