Miller grinds to turn away Cubs twice

Indians premier reliever escapes jams in seventh and eighth innings

October 26th, 2016

CLEVELAND -- whirled off the pitcher's mound, pumped his fist, then paused. He snapped his head back over his shoulder, searching, waiting for umpire Chris Guccione to confirm a third strike. Was it a swing? A rare moment of uncertainty for the planet's best relief pitcher, in a rare moment of stress for the American League champions.

Other doubts would follow, but perhaps there was never need for Miller or the Indians to fret. Once Guccione curled his fingers into a fist, Miller's strikeout of capped a bases-loaded escape in the seventh inning of Cleveland's 6-0 World Series Game 1 win over the Cubs. Skirting a second Chicago rally one inning later, Miller completed what may end up being his signature postseason performance.

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"It was a grind," Miller said. "I think I can be better than I was, but it's a tribute to them, the at-bats that they put together. I feel like I had some opportunities I just missed on, and that's a credit to their ability to take some pitches and to their preparation. We got it done; that's all that matters."

The Indians hope that's all that matters, considering Miller's lack of crispness could have lasting effects. Vanquishing hope takes effort, and Miller needed 46 pitches -- his highest relief total in any game since 2011 -- to record six outs in a three-run game. While manager Terry Francona wouldn't commit to using Miller again in Game 2, Miller offered no such misgivings.

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"It's the World Series," he said. "I'll be ready."

From his initial pitches of Game 1, Miller appeared relatively mortal, relatively hittable, relatively prone to crack -- or perhaps that was just Chicago's signature grind-grind-grind offense flexing its muscle. Entering in relief of , who departed after allowing 's leadoff single in the seventh, Miller threw first-pitch balls to six of the 10 batters he faced. The first of them, , drew a walk off Miller. The next, , singled to left to load the bases.

That's when Miller took over, popping up pinch-hitter and striking out . Rather than pinch-hit for the .229-hitting Ross at that point, Cubs manager Joe Maddon elected to let his catcher hit, citing the 39-year-old's ability to draw walks. And Ross would have drawn one, had he not swung and missed at Miller's full-count slider well off home plate's inside edge.

"Looking back, I wish I would've just stood there and not swung at all," Ross said. "If I could rewind -- if it was that easy. And he throws one right down the middle and America hates me."

In some ways, Ross and the Cubs nonetheless considered this a victory. Entering the final stage of a postseason that has seen Miller and Francona redefine traditional bullpen usage, Miller threw enough pitches that even if he does appear in Game 2, he could be compromised. That's significant, considering his run of 13 2/3 shutout playoff innings, entering games as early as the fifth inning and as late as the eighth.

"Hopefully he's a little more tired than he was at the beginning of the game," Cubs third baseman said, that sentiment echoing around the visiting clubhouse. "We know he's 'The Guy.' He's thrown a lot this postseason. Any time you can get the key guy in the bullpen to throw a lot, that bodes well for us."

If Miller is indeed on fumes this late into October, he's not saying. He planned to report to Progressive Field early enough Wednesday "to take advantage of the staff we have here and all the gadgetry we have in the training room," priming his arm for whatever else is needed. The Cubs have seen him now. The Cubs know they can pressure him now. The National League's top-rated offense will be hungry.

So, too, will Miller.

"I'm available," he said. "There's no question we're ready to go. The most we can play is six more games and I'll find a way to be a part of them."