Baseball / Sports

Cardinals' Miller takes flight against Jays

TORONTO -- When last Shelby Miller had the baseball in his hand and a grip on the game, he pitched six shutout innings, quite possibly his best six innings of the season. He had his mechanics under control, his hyper fastball on a leash and a scoreless tie to cradle. Miller was buoyed by every zero he put between himself and his first-quarter struggles.

There was only one catch: His day didn't end with six.

In the seventh inning of his start last week against Kansas City, Miller lost a feel for his pitches, lost the scoreless tie, and three runs later had lost an inning and the game.

"I had a little learning lesson there," Miller said. "When you've done well in a ballgame and then leave your team out of it? I can't let that happen again."

So Saturday, he didn't.

At the wheel of a scoreless game again, Miller zoomed past six innings and all the way to his second career shutout, driving the St. Louis Cardinals to a 5-0 victory at Rogers Centre. A day after teammate Lance Lynn lost on two solo home runs, Miller kept Toronto's imposing lineup from leaving the park until it'd been shut out for only a second time this season. Opposite Blue Jays lefty Mark Buehrle, one of the game's most efficient and swiftest workers, Miller pulled a Buehrle -- with the kick of velocity. The Cardinals' righty kept a quick pace. He threw strikes. He finished the eighth inning with fewer than 100 pitches, and he punctuated the shutout with a 94 mph fastball for his 105th and final pitch.

"Biggest thing was keeping the pedal down," Miller said.

"That was everything you could ask," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He was just able to maintain it. He just pitched. Looked like a guy who had been around awhile. He found a great spot and never lost it."

Miller (7-5) carried a no-hitter two outs into the sixth inning before allowing the first of the Jays' three hits off him. He pitched most of that time with a scoreless tie as the Cardinals continue spelunking for ways to score runs. Rookie Randal Grichuk provided the first run of the game with his first career home run. Catcher Tony Cruz, spelling regular Yadier Molina for a second consecutive day, had a two-out, two-run single to increase the Cardinals' lead in the eighth and give Miller the breathing room for a complete game.

The win was only the Cardinals' third in their past 11 games, but it gives them a chance to steal a series from the Blue Jays with Jaime Garcia's start Sunday.

The win also ends a three-game losing streak for Miller, a period of personal introspection that did not include a quality start or the consistency he sought. Miller won six of his first nine starts -- or rather the Cardinals' run support did. He spent much of this season pitching out of quagmires. Matheny mentioned earlier this season that Miller's delivery would start to stray during games and the young righty, a former first-round pick, had trouble recovering it. Innings would snowball. Pitch counts would soar. And Miller would wonder.

He allowed 15 runs, all earned, in the 17 innings before Saturday's shutout. That prompted him to go to his mentor, ace Adam Wainwright, with a question.

"If you're struggling, what do you do?" Miller recalled asking.

The answer was to rely on routine.

"You've got to come to the field with the same attitude every single day," Miller said. "If you do between starts everything you should do and you go out and go seven and give up four (against the Royals), then at the end you know you did everything you could. ... You don't have to look for answers or things to fix. This game, I wanted to go the entire game with the same mentality, the same approach."

"First inning, first pitch, it looked like he had confidence," Matheny said.

Miller sped through the Jays' lineup, retiring the first 12 Jays he faced. Twice center fielder Peter Bourjos raced to the wall to steal an extra-base hit. Miller didn't allow a baserunner until the fifth, and he had two outs in the sixth before Jose Reyes' single. Melky Cabrera followed with a single to present Miller with a familiar trap. The last time the inning and game capsized on him. This time, Jose Bautista, a former home run champ, had a chance to turn the Cardinals' 1-0 lead into a two-run deficit with one swing.

Miller fired three consecutive 96 mph fastballs to get ahead.

The righty then elevated a 97 mph fastball that Bautista whiffed on.

"That was a huge point in the game with one of the best hitters in the league up," Miller said. "Sometimes you get into the situation where you have a little bit more."

Miller finished five innings on 59 pitches and had thrown fewer than 70 when he lost the no-hit bid to Reyes. One of the nags on his previous starts had been early, bloated pitch counts because he couldn't sneak his fastball past bats. Foul balls were prolonging his innings. Miller was able to establish his command of the lower zone quickly Saturday and elevate from there -- getting nine swings and misses vs. 12 foul balls. Only three of the 31 batters Miller faced had a plate appearance longer than five pitches.

Buehrle (10-2) stranded six runners on base through four innings before leaving a changeup over the plate that Grichuk drilled to dead-center field. The Cardinals retrieved the memento for the rookie.

The four-run eighth inning against the Jays' bullpen featured two bases-loaded walks.

"The way we've been swinging the bats, for (Miller) to go out there and shut us out like that, it's one of those things," Buehrle said. "Tip your cap to that guy."

Miller's previous shutout was the 28-batter gem against Colorado last season in which he retired 27 consecutive batters after a leadoff single. Matheny acknowledged that Saturday's start was fresher, but he wondered if it was better. Against the Rockies, Miller was "just firing." In Toronto, Miller utilized more than his fastball and found an approach with the best quality of all.

It can be repeated.

"The biggest thing is to get the ball rolling," Miller said. "Try to get the series win. Try to win in Tampa Bay. The biggest thing is winning games. Your opponent is going to be your opponent. It's the MLB. The only question is who is going to bring it that day?"

The answer Saturday was Miller.

(c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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