Miller's thriller: Reliever comes through in clutch

July 29th, 2017

CHICAGO -- 's third pitch on Saturday night was one of his signature sliders, the devastating variety that makes a hard left turn and makes Major League hitters look helpless. On this one, White Sox rookie was indeed helpless. The pitch struck him on the left knee before the rookie could dodge danger.

That loaded the bases for Chicago with one out in the seventh inning, but this was Miller on the mound. Even when the situational odds are not favorable, Cleveland's high-leverage relief ace still tends to hold the advantage. That proved the case again in a 5-4 victory that pushed the American League-leading Indians' winning streak to a season-high nine games. With the Royals' loss Saturday, the Tribe now leads the American League Central by three games.

"I don't think anybody was nervous," Indians closer said. "I think everybody thought, 'He's going to get out of this.' We've seen it a million times. The guy punches out the world."

With the game stuck in a 4-4 deadlock, Indians manager Terry Francona pulled and summoned Miller from the bullpen with one out and runners on the corners. The painful pitch to Moncada then set up a critical confrontation with White Sox third baseman Matt Davidson.

Miller got ahead in the count, 0-1, and then went back to that enticing slider. Once again, the lefty manipulated the pitch so it would tail sharply in on the right-handed batter. And once again, the pitch struck the batter in the leg -- this time it was Davidson's right thigh. There was a catch, however: Davidson swung and was unable to check it in time. It served as a key strike two rather than a run-scoring hit-by-pitch.

"I'm glad he went after it," Miller said.

On the play, Miller did not notice that first-base umpire Lance Barrett immediately called the strike on the swing. What the pitcher saw was the ball ricochet into foul territory, and sprinting across the plate from third as the home audience roared. Davidson did not proceed to first base, though, and catcher was not hustling after the ball.

"It just looked funny the way everybody reacted," Miller said. "I was kind of just processing [what happened]."

Cabrera was sent back to third base and White Sox manager Rick Renteria emerged from the home dugout to argue the call with home-plate umpire Jim Reynolds. While replays showed that Davidson was hit by the pitch, they also made it clear that he swung and missed. After the chaotic scene calmed, Miller responded with strikeouts of Davidson and to strand all three runners.

Miller then worked around a hit, walk and error in the eighth to once again preserve the tie, buying time for the Tribe's lineup to mount its go-ahead rally in the ninth.

"I don't think people quite comprehend how much he competes," Francona said. "You look at the stuff, and it's obvious. But the competitor in him -- he throws his best stuff when the game's on the line."

With his showing on Saturday, Miller moved into the Major League lead among relievers in Win Probability Added (3.43). On the season, the lefty has turned in a 1.52 ERA with 77 strikeouts and 14 walks in 53 1/3 innings (45 appearances). Miller has logged 17 multi-inning outings, allowing only one earned run with 42 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings in those games.

No one in Cleveland's dugout was nervous when Miller encountered some drama.

"He's one of the best relievers in baseball," Kluber said. "If you're going to hand a spot like that over to anybody, he's probably a good guy to do it to."