How waffles and a Chevy Tahoe helped bring Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas to Peoria
PEORIA — Miles Mikolas and baseball both made a strong appearance at Dozer Park on Saturday in a High-A Central League game.
The St. Louis Cardinals right-handed pitcher cruised up in a black Chevy Tahoe and tossed seven innings on 85 pitches to help the Peoria Chiefs to a 7-3 victory over Cedar Rapids on a weird and wonderful night before 2,664 at Dozer Park.
Mikolas has driven himself in his Tahoe all around the Cardinals minor league system during rehab stops to Memphis, Springfield, Missouri, and now Peoria.
"I've put a few miles on the old Chevy," he said, standing outside the Chiefs clubhouse, his right arm wrapped in ice. "It's a blacked out Chevy Tahoe. I'm looking for a High Country Suburban. If Chevy wants to throw me a bone, I'm looking for a white one with a brown interior. Cause I got a bunch of kids and I need the room."
Wild night drew a nice crowd
The Chiefs, who have suffered at the gate this summer, drew a nice, noisy crowd.
There were fireworks and a post-game Christian concert and a few surprises. The game was stopped for eight minutes in the top of the eighth inning when a drone hovered over the infield.
Chiefs left fielder Tommy Jew was called out on strikes in the bottom of the eighth by umpire AJ Choc, who then ejected him when the player used his bat to draw a line in the dirt beside the batters box.
In the ninth, Chiefs pitcher Mac Lardner wound up to deliver a pitch and, well ... fell down off the mound.
Dinner is on Miles
But Mikolas was the headliner as the first Cardinals player to serve a rehab stint with the Chiefs since pitcher Carlos Martinez on May 5, 2019.
The 32-year-old retired 15 straight batters for 16 outs before giving up a bunt single, a single to center, and a two-run single in the sixth. He finished up with seven innings, six hits, three runs (all earned), no walks and eight strikeouts on 85 pitches (59 strikes). His fastball sat mostly at 93-94 mph and he hit 96 once.
It was the longest rehab outing Mikolas has made in 2021 in both innings and pitches.
Afterward, he bought the Chiefs players dinner and planned to fire up his Tahoe in the morning.
"It's been a fun spiritual journey across the Midwest and some of the leagues I used to play in and getting an extended look at some of the young guys," Mikolas said. "It's been a lot of fun — not as much as pitching in the big leagues — but I've had a great time trying to drop my little nuggets of wisdom on guys if they'll let me talk their ears off."
Mikolas bought the team Chick-fil-A before the game, and dinner from an Italian eatery afterward.
Feeding temporary teammates is a ritual for rehabbing big leaguers when they temporarily join a minor league team. And it's a ritual for Mikolas, as he barnstorms around the midwest.
"I've had some good dinner spots," he said. "Been trying to be safe, I don't want to get sick or get someone else sick, so I've been doing a lot of room service.
"But my one weakness is Waffle House. There's one right outside Memphis and some between here and St. Louis. I'm always trying to snag a waffle for breakfast."
And Miles was on for Peoria
On the mound, he mostly handed Cedar Rapids hitters their lunch.
The Chiefs rallied in the fourth inning to give Mikolas a 3-1 lead on a two-run go-ahead homer from Zade Richardson.
Mikolas got the first out in the sixth inning to extend his run to 15 straight hitters retired. Then Cedar Rapids picked up a bunt single and a single to center with one out, then a two-run single to right by Matt Wallner to cut Peoria's lead to 4-3.
Mikolas returned to pitch a flawless seventh and walked off to an ovation from the crowd, doffing his cap in return.
"Memphis was on a 15-game win streak at one point when I was there, and it was fun to feel that energy," Mikolas said. "It felt good tonight, show these young hitters a thing or two.
"My arm feels good, a little fatigued at the end but I think it's important to get to that point. Fastball was coming out of my hand really good. I was able to get in on some guys, break some bats. It's been a tough road back, longer than anyone wants to be out of commission."
It was Mikolas' eighth minor league appearance in 2021. He had five previous appearances for Triple-A Memphis and two with Double-A Springfield. His stint with the Chiefs was his fifth rehab outing since July 24.
Mikolas signed a four-year, $68 million deal with St. Louis before the 2019 season. He went 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA in 2018 after returning from playing in Japan the previous three years.
He missed the 2020 season after having surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his throwing arm.
Mikolas went on the IL on May 23 with a strain in that flexor tendon. He's had stem cell treatments on it. Lots of rehab stints in the minors.
Destination: St. Louis
And a lot of waffles.
"My choice is always to pitch in the big leagues, that's where everybody always want to be," Mikolas said. "But as much as I hate to admit, this was a start I needed, to maybe get a little longer into the game, kind of feel a little fatigue toward the end and get my legs under me for a full set of pitches."
Is he ready to take the mound for St. Louis?
"That's above my pay grade," Mikolas said. "I feel like I'm ready. If they need me, I'll take the ball in five days wherever they give it to me."
While the crowd dispersed upstairs, many of them clad in Cardinals jerseys with nameplates like Goldschmidt, Molina, Gibson and Wainright — and even a few beleaguered Cubs fans representing Rizzo and Baez — Mikolas made a decision on his immediate future.
"I'm going to stay and hang with the guys in the clubhouse," he said. "There's a ping pong table back there and I might play a game or two."
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.