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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Cleveland Indians enjoy lofty payoff from Andrew Miller trade

Cleveland Indians' relief pitcher Andrew Miller accepts the

Cleveland Indians' relief pitcher Andrew Miller accepts the ALCS MVP trophy after the Indians defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 5 on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 to advance to the World Series. Photo Credit: AP / Nathan Denette

TORONTO — After what Andrew Miller has done for Cleveland, in helping to deliver the Indians to the World Series, the least that city can do now is send LeBron James to the Knicks.

Maybe Clint Frazier turns out to be Mike Trout. And Justus Sheffield another Chris Sale. Those were the two highly-coveted prospects that headlined the four-player package the Yankees received for Miller back in July. But to duplicate Miller’s performance for the Indians, who haven’t won a championship since 1948, we’re talking LeBron level here, the ability to single-handedly tip the balance of power in a postseason.

Miller earned MVP honors for his nearly invincible ALCS, and he punctuated the Indians’ 3-0 victory by getting eight outs. He became the first reliever to win the award since the Red Sox’ Koji Uehara in 2013, and only the fourth overall, also joining Mariano Rivera (2003) and Dennis Eckersley (1988).

The numbers? Ridiculous. Miller struck out 14 over 7 2/3 scoreless innings — tying the K-record set by the Astros’ Brad Lidge in 2004 — while allowing three hits and holding the Blue Jays to a .120 batting average. As soon as the Indians got a 3-0 lead to Miller in Wednesday’s Game 5 of the ALCS, with one out in the sixth inning, that was the beginning of the end for the Blue Jays.

By then, Toronto was all-too-familiar with how things go from there, just like the Red Sox before them. With Jose Bautista at first, Miller needed one pitch for the inning-ending double play. He required 21 pitches to get eight outs, then turned it over to closer Cody Allen. Incredibly, Miller had only one strikeout in the clincher.

“Yeah, I trusted my defense,” Miller said, smiling. “But all that matters are outs. All that matters are wins.”

Miller used to be the Yankees’ lethal yet flexible weapon before Brian Cashman’s July fire sale. That original four-year, $36-million contract Miller signed now seems to be one of the sport’s best bargains. And if the Indians get a ring, they’ll have no problem putting Miller on the pedestal right alongside LeBron.

“I think at the time of the trade, we had high expectations for the impact that Andrew had on our team,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “He’s even gone on on to exceed those expectations. It was a really painful trade for us to make. But given where our team was, we thought it was a deal that made sense for us.”

Made sense? That’s the understatement of the month. As Antonetti spoke those words, he was drenched to the bone with Champagne, his championship t-shirt and gym shorts soaked through from the clubhouse celebration. This stuff doesn’t happen every year in Cleveland, a city that before LeBron hadn’t won a title since the ’64 Browns, or been back to the World Series since that seven-game loss to the Marlins in 1997.

Now we’ll be drawing the line of demarcation in Indians’ history with the date of Miller’s arrival. Overall this October, Miller has 21 strikeouts in 11 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing only five hits. Plus, Indians manager Terry Francona has delighted the analytics crew by going to Miller whenever necessary, ditching so-called conventional roles to neutralize an opponent with the most devastating reliever in these playoffs. And right after stomping on another team’s dreams, like some hirsute Terminator, Miller responded in his usual, aw shucks, just doing the job mantra. Never has someone so nasty been so darn likeable.

“I really enjoyed my time with the Yankees,” Miller said, the MVP trophy set beside him. “It’s tough when you leave a comfort zone. But I knew I was coming to a team that had won a lot and had expectations to win more. I was coming to play for Tito. I couldn’t have dreamt it up any better. I feel like I’ve said the word ‘special’ a million times in the last 20 or 30 minutes. But it’s the truth.”

The Indians are saying the same about Miller, the sort of midseason trade GMs fantasize about making — and still don’t imagine this kind of payoff. Especially in a place like Cleveland.

Miller Time After Time

Andrew Miller earned the ALCS MVP award with these numbers:

Games 4

Saves 1

Holds 3

IP 7 2⁄3

Pitches/Strikes 97/70

Hits 3

Runs 0

Ks 14

BBs 0

ERA 0.00

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