When New York Yankees left-hander Andrew Miller took the mound in the eighth inning Monday with one on, one out and his club clinging to a one-run lead, he wasn't nostalgic. He wasn't considering that the guys in the batter's box were his teammates just a few short months ago.
"That situation is stressful enough that I didn't have time to worry about soaking that in or that kind of distraction," said Miller, a key member of the Orioles' 2014 postseason run. "I was more focused on how the heck I was going to be able to get those guys out."
Miller did Monday night what he did for the Orioles after being acquired in a July trade deadline deal with the Boston Red Sox: He plowed through the opposition.
He struck out former teammates Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop to end the eighth inning and then completed the five-out save with a scoreless ninth.
The performance surely made Orioles fans pine for what could have been — especially after their team's bullpen blew a two-run lead in the seventh when Tommy Hunter served up a game-changing grand slam to Stephen Drew. The Orioles bullpen has permitted a run in each of the club's first seven games; Miller hasn't allowed a run — or a hit — in his first 32/3 innings while striking out six batters.
"They'll be fine. Those guys are good. We're in such small sample sizes right now," Miller said. "Tommy's inning last night was the lightning-rod story, it worked out great for us. But he was so close to getting out of the inning in so many different ways. You can't read too much into a game April 13th."
Still, Miller is a poster boy — along with outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz — for the organization's decision not to spend big last offseason to retain their pending free agents, a philosophy that was criticized by a vocal faction of fans.
"I think that's great that [the fans] care and they want their team to go out and get every player," Miller said. "Not getting Markakis back and not getting Cruz back and, certainly I was a distant third to those two guys. But it means something that the fans want you back. But organizations have to operate outside of that. There's more going on than I think a lot of fans realize."
Despite Miller's tremendous 2014 playoff performance — he gave up just one hit and one walk in 71/3 postseason innings — and the fact the club traded pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the rival Red Sox to acquire him, the Orioles never made a run at retaining the 29-year-old lefty. Executive vice president Dan Duquette had a "touch-base" conversation with Miller's agent at the general manager's meetings, and that was pretty much it.
It had nothing to do with ability. The Orioles expected Miller to get a landmark contract, and he did, signing a four-year, $36 million deal with the Yankees that was the largest ever doled out to a nonclosing reliever.
"They were very honest. That's exactly how it was conveyed to me and my agent," Miller said. "They didn't feel comfortable doing that. It certainly wasn't acrimonious or anything like that."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the Orioles operate in a different manner than big-market clubs. And he doesn't begrudge Miller for cashing in on a great season.
"God bless him, and them," Showalter said. The budget is "an excuse if we want to embrace it, but you don't see the Yankees and the Red Sox and the [Los Angeles] Dodgers doing Rule 5 picks, do you? … We have to do those things. So, instead of sitting around wallowing in self pity, play better. Figure out a way."
Long-term deals for relievers — the most volatile commodity in baseball — are always risky. And the Orioles had a younger, cheaper option at closer in Zach Britton.
"It was a given when we traded for Andrew that it was going to be hard to keep him," Showalter said. "But it was worth rolling the dice last year and we'll do it again. We can't be in the business of paying four years to get two."
Overall, Miller said he's excited to be with the Yankees, a franchise he expects to be consistently good throughout his years there. But he'll never forget his brief time in Baltimore, which he called, "The most fun I've ever had playing baseball."
Around the horn
The Orioles will all wear No. 42 for Wednesday's game to honor baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson. The jerseys will then be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.