The skipper liked what he saw. Prince Fielder, Craig Counsell and Russell Branyan all homered off McGowan to back the Brewers' own young starter, Manny Parra, and the Brewers sailed to a 7-0 win in the opener of a three-game Interleague series at Miller Park.
Ryan Braun homered twice against Jays relievers and drove in three runs, giving him 152 career RBIs in 182 games. Braun reached the 150-RBI milestone faster than any Major Leaguer since Boston's Walt Dropo needed only 155 games from 1949-51.
"I think I was seeing the ball in high definition tonight," Braun said. "This is an extremely difficult game and sometimes it's hard to explain. Tonight was one of those nights where the ball kind of slowed down for me and for my teammates as well."
The pitching certainly helped.
"We're good when we get good starting pitching," said Counsell, who homered for the first time since last July 25. "Home runs are great, but if you ask me, the starting pitching is what makes us a good team. Manny did a great job tonight."
Parra (6-2) worked seven shutout innings and struck out five for his fifth straight win. All four of the Blue Jays' hits off Parra were singles and he didn't allow a runner past second base until the seventh inning, when Parra struck out Jays leadoff man Alex Rios with pitch No. 108 to strand Toronto catcher Rod Barajas at third base.
It was the Brewers' fifth consecutive quality start of six or more innings with three or fewer earned runs, and their 16th over the last 20 games. Parra & Co. are 11-4 in that stretch with a 2.98 ERA (42 earned runs in 127 innings).
"I felt pretty good about the way I kept the ball down," Parra said.
That was the key, according to Yost. Parra walked four batters but was consistently missing below the strike zone. He issued three of his walks in the first two innings, and was already at the 43-pitch mark by the time the game moved into the third.
"The problem -- and it was a great problem -- was that he was missing down," Yost said. "I've got no problem any time he misses down. He just made a slight adjustment and started getting the ball back up again a little bit. It wasn't much of anything."
Since allowing a season-high six runs in a no-decision at Washington on May 25, Parra is 4-0 with a 2.49 ERA in four starts. He was stuck with a 1-2 record as late as May 19 but now ranks second on the team to Ben Sheets with six victories.
"He's really starting to take steps," Yost said. "It's a sign of having a little success and backing up just a little bit, relaxing, and having the confidence in yourself to be able to [make adjustments]. ... He's gone through the, 'Boy, I need to be great on every pitch I throw.' He's starting to understand the life of a Major League starter, the mind-set and what it takes to pitch every five days at this level and be successful."
Parra, 25, outpitched McGowan, 26, who fell to 6-14 in career road starts but was coming off a complete-game win over the Mariners.
Anticipating a steady dose of mid- to upper-90's fastballs, Braun and Fielder used smaller bats against the hard-throwing McGowan. Did that mean Counsell used a bigger one?
No, but he had been getting the business from Fielder about his warning track power in batting practice.
"I can't hit a ball out in BP," Counsell said. "I'll take five swings, hit the wall three times. He's been on me to add a little bit more."
Fielder hit a first-pitch, 95-mph fastball for a home run leading off the second inning for a 1-0 Brewers lead, Counsell made it 2-0 when he hit a full-count, 97-mph fastball in the third inning and Branyan extended the advantage to 4-0 with a two-out, two-run home run in the fourth on a 95-mph heater with a 2-and-2 count.
Branyan nearly joined Braun in the multi-homer club when he lifted an offering from left-handed reliever Jesse Carlson toward right field in the seventh inning. The baseball stayed foul and landed in the fourth deck.
Even with that near-miss, Branyan has hit eight home runs in 56 at-bats since a promotion from Triple-A Nashville. Not bad for a guy who didn't have a job until after the start of Spring Training, and then only got a Minor League deal.
"He's given us a big boost," Yost said. "That's an understatement. To be honest with you, when we signed him, I thought he was through. I really did. I just never thought he'd make it back to the big leagues. But he's worked hard and he's been a very, very productive piece of our offense."
Braun was pretty good, too. Even if he needed a history lesson.
"I don't know or pay attention to the historical stuff, but any time you're mentioned in a historical sense in this game, it's pretty amazing," he said when asked about the comparison to Dropo, the 1950 American League Rookie of the Year. "I'd never heard of him. I had no idea I was approaching his mark."