Fall Classic reunion fitting for Chapman, Miller

October 23rd, 2016

When and took off the Yankees pinstripes and said their goodbyes to one another last summer, they knew this kind of reunion was a possibility.

Yes, trades sometimes work out exactly the way they're drawn up, and this World Series is a reminder of that. The Cubs and Indians might very well have gotten here without the trades that brought them two of baseball's best relievers, but both teams were transformed by the deals.

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At some point over the next few days, Miller and Chapman -- who were teammates with the Yankees for four months -- will cross paths and are sure to congratulate one another on how it has all worked out.

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First, Miller.

If there has been a transformative figure in this postseason, Miller is it. Indians manager Terry Francona has used him in so many roles that every team is certain to revisit how to construct a bullpen this offseason. In other words, they're all going to be searching for someone to fill an "Andrew Miller role."

Good luck with that. Unless they can find someone with Miller's stuff and Miller's attitude and Miller's durability, they're going to be disappointed.

Here's the other part of it. Relievers rarely become marquee stars in October. Miller is the exception to that rule. He has a chance to be a very prime-time player, right there along with , etc.

The Indians have played eight postseason games, and Miller has been in six of them. And he has been absolutely dominant: 21 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings. As Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said, "He has that slider that looks like a fastball and then just absolutely disappears."

To put it another way: unhittable. Francona signaled how things would go when he brought Miller into the fifth inning of Cleveland's first postseason game. He would also be used in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings throughout the postseason, and for a pitching staff that has lost three starting pitchers to injuries, Miller -- and Francona's use of Miller -- probably saved a season.

He was named the American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player after pitching in all four Cleveland victories and striking out 14 of 26 Blue Jays. If the Indians have a lead around the fifth inning in the World Series, Francona will start looking for an opportunity to get Miller into the game.

When Indians general manager Mike Chernoff was discussing the acquisition of Miller a day before the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Francona knew exactly how he'd fit.

"When they were in the -- upstairs in their meetings about the trade talks and they were talking about Andrew," Francona said, "they were actually talking -- and I was in there listening and doing some talking, just about how he would fit into a bullpen and how you could leverage him, just like we are now. So the thought was alive before we got him. We envisioned using him like we are."

Sure, Miller would make the Indians better. But Chernoff had given the Yankees such a nice package of prospects, including outfielder , that Miller simply had to be more than another setup guy. He has been. Francona showed again why he'll someday have a plaque in Cooperstown by how he has used Miller simply as a weapon instead of in a defined role.

In some ways, Miller's arrival was as much about Francona's genius as Miller's. In Miller's first four appearances with the Indians, he entered games in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings, with stints ranging from two batters to two innings.

From the beginning, Miller told Francona that a defined role was unimportant, the gist of which was: "Simply use me when you need me."

Cleveland's bullpen had a 3.49 ERA, ninth best in the Majors, before getting Miller. Afterwards, that bullpen blew just one save and had the fourth-lowest ERA (3.31).

By contrast, Chapman got a more traditional role with the Cubs. He saved 16 games and never entered a game before the eighth inning. He worked longer than one inning only twice.

But he had a huge impact on the Cubs. When he arrived, the Cubs were in their only slump of the season, having lost 19 of 31 games. Chapman gave the Cubs a comfort level that the ninth inning was taken care of. After his arrival, Cubs relievers had the third-lowest ERA (3.20) in baseball.

And the Cubs got hot again.

They were 44-18 with Chapman in uniform and won 103 games, their most in 106 years. Beyond the numbers, Chapman gave the Cubs an emotional boost. Because he can be a free agent after this season, his arrival sent a message to the clubhouse that management was all-in to win this season. He also added an element of excitement.

When Chapman takes his jacket off and begins to warm up, there's a buzz in the crowd. The players feel that electricity, and especially the buzz that comes with having a guy who blows up radar guns, routinely hitting 102-103 mph.

The Cubs have been widely viewed as baseball's best team since the first day of Spring Training, and Chapman solidified that standing.

Miller and Chapman could both be household names by the time this World Series ends. Few pitchers in history have ever thrown as hard as Chapman, and few relievers have ever had the role Miller now occupies.

When Chapman was asked Saturday night if he was looking forward to being matched up across from his former teammate, he said: "I'm ready to do it. I'm ready to get on with it."

Indeed, we all are.