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Fan zone: Miller punching out Jays at historic rate

October 15, 2016

CLEVELAND -- Andrew Miller could yell that his slider is coming, and it would not matter. The pitch is too menacing, too devastating. It buckles knees and rolls ankles. If the Indians' relief ace has entered a game, there is a chance those dirt stains on the hitters' pants are

CLEVELAND -- Andrew Miller could yell that his slider is coming, and it would not matter. The pitch is too menacing, too devastating. It buckles knees and rolls ankles. If the Indians' relief ace has entered a game, there is a chance those dirt stains on the hitters' pants are from swinging and missing and falling.
Miller is not a setup man or a closer. He is a giant, and not just in stature. In Cleveland's 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night at Progressive Field, the door that opened in the center-field wall may as well been for a cage, one that was unable to contain this relief monster that is now in the Indians' possession. He chews up hitters and spits out strikeouts.
• ALCS Game 3: tonight at 8 ET on TBS/Sportsnet/RDS
"It's been kind of ridiculous to watch," marveled Indians reliever Bryan Shaw after Miller's second consecutive two-inning, five-strikeout performance. Miller's next chance to pitch may be in Game 3 in Toronto.
:: ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Indians coverage ::
Miller entered in the seventh on Saturday after starter Josh Tomlin (5 2/3 innings) and Shaw (one-third) carried a 2-1 lead to that juncture. The lefty jogged in, and the Blue Jays knew exactly what they were up against. During the regular season, Miller spun a 1.45 ERA and piled up 123 strikeouts against nine walks. He is the only pitcher in baseball history to have at least 120 punchouts with fewer than 10 walks in a season.
"He's got to make a mistake," Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "He hasn't made any, really. He's living on that corner. He's making pitches with his backdoor slider and his fastball. He has some momentum. He has the crowd on his side. He's been tough on us."
Miller has been tough on everyone.
When Miller struck out Russell Martin, Melvin Upton Jr. and Kevin Pillar in the seventh, it gave the 6-foot-7 lefty seven consecutive strikeouts over his past two outings. That tied a postseason record, which was set by Phil Coke, pitching for the Tigers in the 2012 World Series. In this ALCS, Miller has struck out 10 of the 12 batters he has faced. The two non-strikeouts were a groundout and base hit.

Miller has four or more strikeouts in three games this postseason, becoming only the third reliever to do that in one October. Francisco Rodríguez achieved that feat with the Angels in 2002, and Dave Burba did it for the Indians in 1998. In these playoffs, batters are 1-for-21 in two-strike counts against Miller, who has 17 strikeouts overall in 7 2/3 shutout innings.
Miller already has made more than a name for himself on the Major League stage, but if the left-hander continues at his current pace, he will be remembered for ages for what he did this month. The Indians are suddenly two wins shy of reaching the World Series, and Miller's left arm has played a prominent role.

The sold-out crowd at Progressive Field was witness to Miller's latest act of insanity. Miller struck out five batters for the second consecutive day, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to achieve that feat of strength.
This is what the Indians had in mind on July 31, when Cleveland pulled the trigger on a trade to pry Miller from the Yankees for four prospects, including prized outfielder Clint Frazier. It was a big price to pay in players -- let alone Miller's hefty salary. It was worth it, though, because Indians manager Terry Francona now has a leverage weapon that has completely altered the Tribe's bullpen.
"There's a reason we gave up what we did for him," Francona said. "We thought that he could be a guy that we could leverage in situations like we have. And it would make our bullpen that much better and give us a chance to keep playing. And, that's exactly what he's doing."

"I don't think baseball has a switch," Miller said. "We put in a lot of work and try to prepare as much as possible, get the confidence going out there. I don't think there's any magic switch to pitch well in any game, or hitting well in any game, or whatever. I think [you have to] trust that you've done everything to be prepared and be ready to be successful in that situation."
This is more than just success. This has been succumbing.
After Pillar struck out with a half-swing on a low-and-inside slider -- Miller's trademark -- the Blue Jays batter flipped his bat away in disgust at the end of the seventh. As the crowd roared and Miller bounced off the mound in celebration, Pillar undid his batting loves and shook his head as he walked out to the outfield.

At least Pillar stayed on his feet.
"When you think about what he's doing against Major League hitters," Indians outfielder Rajai Davis said, "some of the best hitters in the game, and he's making him look that bad? He's got stuff. Obviously, his stuff is what's playing."
Miller can come at a hitter with a 96-mph heater, and then fire his slider more than 10 mph slower at their back foot. That combination not only toys with a hitter's plan and approach, but crushes their spirits.
"It looks like a strike for a long time," Martin said, "and then kind of darts out of the zone."
Said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said: "I don't even know how to say it. He's just one of those guys with that arm slot that you can't really plan for or practice against."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.