CLEVELAND — Quite a jokester, that Andrew Miller.
“It’s not easy this time of year,” the lefty reliever said quite seriously Saturday after the Indians took a 2-0 lead in the ALCS with a 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays.
Miller, of course, is making it look exactly that.
The 31-year-old, whom the Yankees dealt to the Indians before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline in exchange for four highly regarded prospects, entered Saturday’s game in the seventh inning and promptly struck out the side — Russell Martin, pinch hitter Melvin Upton Jr. and Kevin Pillar — on 15 pitches.
He started the eighth by striking out Darwin Barney, saw Blue Jays leadoff man Ezequiel Carrera experience what amounted to great success by making contact (he grounded weakly to second), then struck out Josh Donaldson to end the inning.
It gave Miller 10 strikeouts — all coming on his sweeping slider — in 12 batters faced in the series.
“Seems like they’re just sitting on the slider, and even when he throws it, it’s unhittable,” catcher Roberto Perez said. “He’s doing a pretty good job throwing the fastball for strikes. And he gets tougher and tougher when he gets two strikes. Catching it is tough, so I wouldn’t like trying to hit it.”
Miller has been lethal throughout this postseason regardless of when Indians manager Terry Francona goes to him. In four appearances — starting in ALDS Game 1, when he came on in the fifth inning against the Red Sox — Miller has 17 strikeouts in 7 2⁄3 scoreless innings. He has allowed three hits and two walks.
“I don’t even know how to say it,” Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis said of Miller’s performance.
Miller has yet to allow a run in 10 career postseason appearances, striking out 27 and allowing only four hits and three walks in 16 innings.
Kipnis can understand the frustration of the Blue Jays’ hitters, who with each passing pitch look as if they wish they were anywhere but at the plate against Miller.
“It’s really fun to watch from the defensive side,” said Kipnis, 0-for-9 with six strikeouts in his career against Miller. “Having had to face that before [at the plate], it’s not fun to watch.”
Indians outfielder Rajai Davis, who is 1-for-3 in his career against Miller, took note of the lack of competitive at-bats against him in the first two games. “Some of the best hitters in the game,” Davis said, “and he’s making them look that bad.”
Miller has been quick to spread credit to the rest of the bullpen all postseason. “It’s not just me, we have a lot of depth out there,” he said. “I’ve had some success in this series, but ultimately we like whoever’s on the mound.”
Between the Yankees and Indians, Miller made 70 appearances this season, all of that before four multi-inning appearances in the postseason.
“I think I feel tired when I’m not on the mound,” he said with a smile. “You step in front of these lights, in front of these crowds, and it carries you a long ways. I think balancing that, ultimately that’s probably the toughest thing, because we are tired, we’ve all played a lot, it’s been a long year for everybody. But you get in there and you get a shot of adrenaline. Finding that fine line I think is a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun.”