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Former Orioles relief pitcher Stu Miller dies at 87

Former Orioles relief pitcher Stu Miller died Jan. 4, 2015, at age 87.
Former Orioles relief pitcher Stu Miller died Jan. 4, 2015, at age 87. (Joseph DiPaola Jr., Baltimore Sun)

Stu Miller, the fearless, soft-tossing pitcher who joined the Orioles in the twilight of his career and became an integral part of the team's stellar bullpens of the mid-1960s, died Sunday at his home in Cameron Park, Calif., following a brief illness. He was 87.

Miller, who was a member of the Orioles' first World Series title team in 1966 and was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1989, spent five seasons of his 16-year career with the club. He was 38-36 with a 2.37 ERA in 297 relief appearances with the Orioles and averaged 23 saves between 1963 and 1966.

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It wasn't Miller's velocity, but his deceptive delivery and ability to keep hitters off balance that made him one of the game's best relief pitchers in the mid-1960s. "One catcher said he could catch my stuff with a pair of pliers," Miller told The Baltimore Sun in 2009. "Really, my fastball was in the mid-80s, at most, and the changeup was a good 8 mph less. But both pitches looked the same, which was the secret to my deception."

Miller arrived in Baltimore in 1963 at age 35, already a decade into his career, and led the major leagues in saves (27), games (71) and games finished (59). In 1965, he had a 14-7 record, 1.89 ERA, 24 saves and finished seventh in American League Most Valuable Player voting.

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As the Orioles won their first World Series title in 1966, Miller was the elder statesman of the club's bullpen, going 9-4 with a 2.25 ERA and 18 saves in 92 relief innings at age 38. He didn't pitch in the Orioles' four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, mainly because Baltimore's starters threw three complete-game wins.

Nonetheless, Miller had a great impact on those great Orioles teams, finishing victories with his floating pitches that frustrated opposing hitters.

"He was the epitome of an off-speed pitcher, but he could get people out," former teammate Eddie Watt said Monday. "I saw him pitch all year [in 1966], and I don't think I saw him throw a legitimate fastball.

"He had three to four speeds on his fastball, and they were all slow. He had three to four speeds on his curveball and threw them on any count. He had just tremendous deception. If he was going to throw a changeup, you knew he was going to throw a changeup, and you still weren't ready. He had just tremendous deception and no fear at all."

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Miller was on the mound for one of the most peculiar games in team history, combining with Steve Barber on a nine-inning no-hitter that the Orioles lost to the Detroit Tigers, 2-1, on April 30, 1967. Barber threw 8 2/3 no-hit innings despite walking 10 batters and was one strike away from a 1-0 win in the ninth.

After the Tigers tied the game, Miller entered and induced a grounder to shortstop. But rookie Mark Belanger committed an error on a force play at second base, allowing the eventual winning run to score.

In his 16-year major league career, Miller played for the Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals, New York/San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves. He had a 105-103 career record with a 3.24 ERA and 154 saves in 704 games. He was a National League All-Star in 1961 while pitching for the Giants.

Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said Miller not only possessed "one of the greatest changeups in the history of baseball," but he also had a unique way of selling it with a neck jerk that made it appear the ball was coming to the plate with more speed.

"He was a [former] starting pitcher who relied on the [batting practice] fastball and the changeup," Palmer said. "He would come out of the locker room in the sixth or seventh inning, and he'd have towels wrapped around his neck. With Stu, the most important things were the towels around his neck and his chiropractor."

Palmer, who played with Miller in his first three seasons in the major leagues and still follows the game regularly as a Mid-Atlantic Sports Network analyst, said Miller was one of the best late-inning relievers he has ever seen.

"He was a phenomenon," Palmer said. "Out of all the guys I've had a chance to see over my career as a reliever -- and that's no disrespect to the Mariano [Riveras] and [Jeff] Reardons and [Dennis Eckersleys] -- if you loaded the bases up with nobody out, I'd take Stu Miller because the chance of hitting the ball out of the infield off him were minimal. He was just one of a kind."

Watt, who pitched in a relief role for the first time as a rookie in 1966, said Miller served as a mentor, teaching him about how to pitch out of the bullpen.

"I think the biggest thing about Stu Miller, both on and off the field, is that he was a very, very relaxed and casual person until it started getting in the middle of the ballgame," Watt said. "You could see he was getting ready. He and Dick Hall were in the 'pen, and they had a lot of experience.

"Stu made himself very available to me. He helped relax me and settle me down. He would spend time with me and go over how to pitch out of the 'pen, how to prepare physically and get ready and how to warm up and not blow it out in the bullpen. I think that's what I'll remember most."

Despite being the oldest member of a bullpen that also included veterans Hall, Eddie Fisher and Moe Drabowsky, Miller also was known for his fun-loving nature. He joked in 2009 that he still received mail from fans asking him to sign pictures of Mickey Mantle's 500th career home run, which Miller allowed in 1967.

"In five years [with the Orioles], that's the only homer he hit off me," Miller said in 2009. "A 3-2 pitch, low and away. Only two guys ever hit that pitch out, him and Stan Musial. Now I get letters every day asking me to sign Mantle's picture."

Miller is survived by his wife, Jayne; six children, Scott, Lori, Kim, Marc, Gary and Matthew; five grandchildren and one great-grandson. Funeral services will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate contributions in Miller's name to the favorite charity of those donating.

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