Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Miller Is 'The Man' for Tribe

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Miller Is 'The Man' for Tribe

Article excerpt

It was only two days ago when Clayton Kershaw looked like an unmovable force in the Cubs' path. He was going to stop them from steamrolling their way through October, or at least slow them down enough to extend the NLCS to a Game 7. Look at how that worked out - - Kershaw was the one who got pancaked. It made you wonder that if his legendary curveball couldn't throttle the Cubs, what can?

On the eve of the World Series, this is another way of asking whether Andrew Miller can be the difference maker Kershaw wasn't. True, these are two different pitchers with different mechanics and different weapons. One is a starter, the other a reliever. We got that.

But it's also a fact that Miller separated the Indians from the Red Sox and Blue Jays on the strength of a slider that hitters unashamedly admit they can't touch. Yankees fans aren't surprised. Miller was lights out all summer before being dealt to the Tribe and totaled 123 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings in the regular season. But now he's coming up against baseball's hottest team and, if you believe in such things, the one currently favored by the gods.

Think the Cubs aren't special? Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "They have no weaknesses," and were so aggressive against Kershaw they accomplished what would otherwise have been a miracle - they took away his signature dominance of the inside corner against right- handed hitters.

That's why this showdown is critical to the Indians' chances. Terry Francona has made it clear he's willing to use Miller not just as a closer or in a set-up role, but in any circumstance, any inning. That's how much Francona trusts Miller's slider lately. It breaks in wide, round-house fashion, not unlike a Frisbee, then appears to accelerate, down and in, as it nears the plate.

That's how most left-handed sliders dance, but Miller's is unique for several reasons and explains why he's struck out more than half the hitters he's faced in the postseason.

First, Miller has exceptional velocity, averaging just under 95 mph this season with his fastball. That alone makes hitters uncomfortable, and leaves them fewer resources to guard against that big-breaking slider. Russell Martin said exactly that during the ALCS, telling reporters, "Trying to catch up to 96 and then having to adjust to the sweeping slider like [Miller] has is tough. It looks like a strike for a really long time and then it darts out of the zone."

Point No. 2: Because he's 6 feet 7 and has such long arms, Miller has a whip-like action to his delivery and thus creates phenomenal spin rate on the ball. Against the Blue Jays, his slider was averaging close to 2,800 revolutions per minute, which accounts not just for the pitch's enormous break, but how late it moves.

That's what Martin meant about Miller creating a darting action on his slider. …

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