TORONTO -- In the lead-up to October, Terry Francona would tell anybody who would listen that, to get through the postseason, you need to have a guy who does something "extreme."
Andrew Miller, your all-too-obvious American League Championship Series MVP in the wake of the Indians' clinching 3-0 victory over the Blue Jays in Game 5 on Wednesday, would certainly qualify.
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What word, other than "extreme," describes a man whose left arm accounted for five outs in Game 1, six in Game 2, four in Game 3 and eight in Game 5 -- each and every one of the Tribe's victories over the Blue Jays?
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What word better describes an otherwise indescribable pitching line: 7 2/3 innings, three hits, 14 strikeouts (tying Brad Lidge's LCS relief record from 2004), no walks and one save?
What word better describes a 6-foot-7 dude with a wipeout slider who is as comfortable pitching in the fifth as he is in the ninth and has quickly and undoubtedly repaid an organization for dealing away a few of its most prominent prospects?
What better word describes just the fifth time a reliever has won an LCS MVP?
Yeah. This was extreme.
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"I don't know," said closer Cody Allen, "if you'll ever see that kind of performance in a series again, what he did against a lineup like that."
Well, shoot, maybe we'll see it in the World Series, where the Indians are headed for the first time in 19 years. Because Miller is on some kind of roll.
In the entirety of October, Miller has given the Indians 11 2/3 innings in which he's allowed just five hits with two walks and -- gulp -- 21 K's. Opponents are hitting .132 off him, and he's posted a minuscule 0.60 WHIP.
But the only number that mattered to Miller is seven, for the number of wins they've compiled in this amazing October run.
"I would have given up a hundred runs if we won 101-100," he said. "That's all that matters is we're going to the World Series, and that's a special experience and I can't wait."
It's not going to the extreme to say the Indians would not be embarking upon that experience if it weren't for Miller. To best the Blue Jays, they jumped on his back -- even if it takes a stepladder to reach it.
The Indians started their ace, Corey Kluber, on short rest for the first time in his career in Game 4 of this ALCS because they quite literally would have had nobody else who could confidently go on three days' rest or more if the series had extended to a Game 7.
In Game 2, they started Josh Tomlin, who just two months ago was cast out of their rotation altogether. In Game 3, they started a guy with 10 stitches in his finger, Trevor Bauer, and then watched blood drip out of said finger after two outs. They had All-Star starter Danny Salazar throwing simulated sessions on the side as part of his elbow rehab and Carlos Carrasco -- who got down-ballot AL Cy Young Award votes in 2015 -- walking around with a brace on his broken hand.
In other words, this was an unusual series for the pennant-winners, from a starting perspective.
And the only way to survive such a thing is to have an unusual weapon in your bullpen.
Miller was the weapon waiting in the wings when the Tribe sent untested rookie Ryan Merritt to the mound to start Game 5, just the second start of his big league life. The Indians knew if they could just jump out to an early lead and Merritt could work his way through that vaunted Toronto lineup a time or two without totally coming undone, they could start rolling out the relievers. And that's exactly what happened, with the added bonus that Merritt allowed just two hits in 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
After Bryan Shaw got the last two outs of the fifth and the first of the sixth, Miller came on with a runner aboard. He needed exactly one pitch -- a 93.5-mph four-seamer -- to get reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground into the inning-ending double play. And then, in the seventh, he needed just 12 pitches to mow right through Edwin Encarnacion (flyout), Troy Tulowitzki (groundout) and Russell Martin (groundout).
All right, so that killed his enormous postseason strikeout rate, but at least it was efficient work. Dioner Navarro singled off Miller for the second time in three days to lead off the eighth. But Miller quickly regrouped to strike out Ezequiel Carrera, get Kevin Pillar to ground into a forceout and get Darwin Barney to fly out harmlessly to left.
Eight outs, 21 pitches, then hand it off to Allen for the series-clinching save.
Good work if you can get it.
Miller's performance is an extreme extension of what he gave the Indians following his July 31 arrival in that blockbuster trade with the Yankees. In 26 regular-season appearances with his new club, he had a 1.55 ERA and a .433 opponents' OPS. Francona turned Miller into his favorite toy, foisting him upon opponents in high-leverage spots in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth and, in retrospect, providing a preview of the way he'd utilize this unique edge on the October stage.
Through it all, Miller, in the second year of a four-year, $36 million contract, has never worried about his role.
"All that matters are outs," Miller said. "All that matters are wins. It honestly does not matter how we get there."
The Indians got there because they took on an inordinate amount of risk in the Miller deal. They didn't totally empty their system, but they gave up four players in all and three (Clint Frazier at No. 1, Justus Sheffield at No. 5 and Ben Heller at No. 30) of their Top 30 Prospects, as ranked by MLBPipeline.com.
They also took on the remaining sum of Miller's large contract, which would be a pittance on some clubs but, for the Indians, currently projects to be one of their top three (assuming Carlos Santana's option is exercised) expenditures in 2017.
"We gave up a lot, but it's all about winning," owner Paul Dolan said. "And we were positioned to win this year and it's very clear now that Andrew Miller was the big difference in terms of getting us there, because of what he meant to our pitching staff and our bullpen, particularly. Yeah, years from now I suspect we'll look at some of these guys that we traded and say, 'Why did we trade them?' But then we'll look at the couple trophies we have and we'll know why we did it."
On Wednesday night, Miller got his trophy, and the Indians got theirs. Now the World Series awaits. It's an extreme stage, certainly, but the Indians think they have just the guy to handle it.