Just because he revolutionized relief pitching last October and was the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 American League Championship Series does not mean that Andrew Miller is a sure thing. In fact, the fickle nature of the playoffs is the only thing Miller is sure about.
“Momentum is unreal in these games,” he said after he allowed a home run that meant everything in the Indians’ 1-0 loss to the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Sunday night. “That’s the reality of it. Inning to inning, run to run. It’s not over until you’re jumping up and down and moving on to the next round.”
The jumping and moving will have to wait at least a day for Miller and his team because of one misplaced fastball to Greg Bird in the seventh inning. That is the way it goes this time of year.
“I’m ready to go tomorrow,” the losing pitcher said. “I feel like I’m throwing the ball well. I’m getting stronger and better. I just made a mistake tonight.”
Miller was as big a reason as anyone for the Indians winning the AL pennant last fall. After he was acquired from the Yankees, he seemed indomitable (46 strikeouts in 29 innings) and was such a force that Terry Francona bent baseball convention by using the star reliever at all different parts of games. Sometimes he came in as early as the fifth inning.
He entered in the sixth this time and immediately put out a fire, getting Starlin Castro to end the inning with a bases-loaded pop to short. It seemed that his team had averted the worst crisis it was going to face. But then, the dominant lefthanded pitcher gave up a homer to a lefthanded batter, something Miller had done only once all season.
“My game isn’t trying to be too fine. I felt like the ball came out of my hand good, it had good velocity. It could have certainly been a better pitch. What I was trying to do was just wrong in that situation,” he said.
With a 1-and-1 count, he was trying to throw the ball outside and make Bird chase it. Instead it caught too much of the plate. “I’ve never faced him until this series,” Bird said. “I’ve seen him on our side and seen how good he is. Really, the respect I have for him, on and off the field, I don’t know if there’s anyone like him.”
The Indians were surprised as anyone, but not the least disappointed in Miller. “He’s human. These things happen in a ballgame,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “He’s won a lot of games for us last year and this year.”
There is a heck of a chance Miller will be back in there in Game 4, which will feature Trevor Bauer starting on short rest. “He might pitch forever tomorrow,” Francona said of his relief specialist.
Miller did what a reliever does, even a reliever who is good enough to bend conventions. He gave credit to the batter: “He’s a good hitter. I saw that first-hand last year.” Then, he said, “You learn from it, and move on.”