Shortly after the World Series-bound Cleveland Indians acquired left-hander reliever Andrew Miller at the nonwaiver trade deadline, I remember doing a double check of a box score that detailed that Miller was sent into the game in the sixth inning.
At the time, anyone would wonder why one of the best game's late-inning relievers would be used so early in the game. And while that was the first and only time in the regular season that Indians manager Terry Francona turned to Miller as early as the sixth inning, it foreshadowed how he has used the lockdown lefty in the postseason. It has changed the way we typically look at using late-inning relievers.
Orioles fans don't need to be told how much of a difference-maker Miller can be, especially in the postseason. Miller threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings for the Orioles in the 2014 postseason, retiring 22 of the 24 batters he faced. Yes, Miller was a rental, and the price to acquire him from the Boston Red Sox was left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who could be mowing down the Orioles for years to come. But if the Orioles didn't go out and get Miller, he likely would have been pitching against them in the postseason, and they might not have gotten as far as they did.
Now, Miller not only has a ticket to his first World Series – he came four wins short of that with the Orioles two years ago – but he also has a shiny new American League Championship Series MVP trophy after 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the Indians' five-game series win. He threw 2 2/3 innings in Wednesday's clincher. Add in four scoreless innings in the American League Division Series and Miller hasn't allowed a run in 20 career postseason innings dating to his first postseason with the Orioles in 2014.
On Wednesday, Miller entered the game with one out in the sixth. He pitched the sixth and seventh in Cleveland's ALDS Game 3 clincher in Boston. He entered in the fifth of Game 1 of that series. And all six of his postseason appearances this offseason have been more than one inning, and four of those outings were two innings or longer.
There has been no player more valuable this postseason than Miller, and that hasn't often been said about a reliever -- even less often said about a nonclosing reliever. It's one thing to be as dominant as he has been this postseason; it's another do so while providing that kind of length to shorten a game.
Miller's time in Baltimore was short, but he was a quick fit inside the Orioles clubhouse, especially because of the way he embraced any role given to him, much like he did when he arrived in Cleveland. Add in that the wipeout slider he throws from a lanky 6-foot-7 frame is almost a can't-hit pitch and what's not to like?
The Orioles knew Miller's postseason performance in 2014 would net him a nice payday in free agency, and they also knew they likely couldn't match what he was bound to make on the open market. Miller eventually signed with the New York Yankees for four years, $36 million. The following offseason, the Orioles would re-sign setup man Darren O'Day to a four-year, $31 million deal, so a year later, they were willing to spend unprecedented money on a nonclosing reliever.
Miller is in a different uniform now, and heading to the World Series.