Yan­kees' pen pals make im­pact in World Se­ries

Ex-New York ‘pen pals’ Chap­man, Miller vi­tal in Cubs, In­di­ans suc­cess in Oc­to­ber

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Will Graves

The guy re­defin­ing what it means to be a closer re­mains in awe of the guy who took his job this spring.

The guy who has spent the last three months pos­si­bly re­defin­ing what it means to be a closer re­mains in awe of the guy who took his job this spring.

Sorry, An­drew Miller can’t help it. Aroldis Chap­man’s stuff is so elec­tric, it’s im­pos­si­ble to turn away.

“I love watch­ing him pitch,” Miller said. “I don’t change the chan­nel when he’s on TV.”

At the mo­ment, his view is even bet­ter. The Cleve­land In­di­ans re­liever can just glance over at the Chicago Cubs bullpen dur­ing the World Se­ries to get his fix of Chap­man’s seem­ingly end­less stream of tripledigit fast­balls.

“There’s a per­cep­tion that it’s easy for him be­cause he’s such an out­lier,” Miller said. “But he’s got a tremen­dous work ethic and in the way he goes about get­ting him­self pre­pared.”

Miller would know. They were in the bullpen to­gether for 21/2 months with the New York Yan­kees this sea­son. New York ac­quired Chap­man last De­cem­ber, and the Cuban left-han­der bumped Miller to a setup role when he re­turned from a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence sus­pen­sion in May. Miller had tied for sec­ond in the

AL with 36 saves the year be­fore.

The ex­per­i­ment lasted un­til the trade dead­line. Tread­ing wa­ter in late July, the Yan­kees sent Chap­man to the Cubs and Miller to the In­di­ans in ex­change for prospects while com­mit­ting to a full re­build.

Three months later, the two play­ers who be­gan the sea­son try­ing to help the Yan­kees win a 28th World Se­ries ti­tle find them­selves play­ing vi­tal roles on teams that have com­bined for a small frac­tion of that num­ber (four). Miller and the In­di­ans can clinch the club’s first cham­pi­onship since 1948 on Tues­day night in Game 6, while Chap­man and the Cubs are hop­ing for a chance to send it to a de­cid­ing Game 7 as Chicago tries to end a 108-year drought.

On the sur­face, Miller and Chap­man could be car­bon copies of each other: hard-throw­ing left­ies who over­whelm bat­ters with power.

The re­al­ity is a bit more com­plex thanks in large part to the un­ortho­dox way Cleve­land man­ager Terry Fran­cona de­ploys Miller.

In an era of clearly de­fined bullpen roles, Fran­cona uses Miller as a 6-foot-7 piece of duct tape. Some­times, the sev­enth in­ning needs to be patched up. Some­times the eighth. Some­times the sixth. Some­times, all three.

And Miller, a for­mer first-round pick who spent the first half of his ca­reer try­ing to make it as a starter be­fore the Bos­ton Red Sox gave up and con­verted him into a re­liever in 2012, has re­sponded by putting to­gether one of the most dom­i­nant post­sea­son runs ever.

Nine times dur­ing the play­offs, Miller has jogged to the mound. The In­di­ans are un­de­feated in those nine games. It’s not a co­in­ci­dence.

He’s en­tered as early as the fifth and as late as the eighth, record­ing at least four outs in every ap­pear­ance.

His num­bers — 2-0 with a save and a 0.36 ERA, strik­ing out 39 against just five walks — look like a typo or some­thing out of a video game where “fa­tigue” has been turned off. They’re not. “An­drew’s the model of just pitch when­ever,” Fran­cona said. “The kid’s un­be­liev­able.”

On the sur­face, Miller and Chap­man could be car­bon copies of each other: hard-throw­ing left­ies who over­whelm bat­ters with power.

Even Miller is hav­ing a hard time de­scrib­ing the run he’s on, one fu­eled by a nearly un­hit­table slider that forces bat­ters like Chicago first base­man An­thony Rizzo to play the base­ball ver­sion of the lot­tery every time they swing.

“You just hope you pick the right lane,” Rizzo said.

Al­most no­body has. Op­po­nents are hit­ting .140 against Miller, who doesn’t seem to tire whether he’s throw­ing 17 pitches or 37. He at­tributes his elas­tic­ity to the gad­getry Cleve­land’s train­ing staff uses to keep him fresh and the sur­vival in­stincts honed from the days when he was sim­ply cling­ing to a spot on a ma­jor league ros­ter.

“It’s not some­thing you of­fer, it’s some­thing you have to have,” he said. “If you’re not flex­i­ble, you’re not go­ing to have a spot in the big leagues.”

Be­sides, as Miller points out, “there’s very few closers who be­come closers right away and fall into that rou­tine.”

Mean­ing closers like Chap­man, who took over the job in Cincin­nati in 2012 and pro­ceeded to make four straight Al­lS­tar teams.

The 28-year-old is a metic­u­lous crea­ture of habit, so used to be­ing used in the ninth in­ning — and al­most ex­clu­sively the ninth in­ning — that Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don checked with Chap­man be­fore Game 5 about en­ter­ing ear­lier.

The call ended up com­ing with one out in the sev­enth and Chicago up a run. Chap­man re­sponded by al­low­ing just one hit over 2 2/3 in­nings to pre­serve a 3-2 vic­tory and pick up his fourth save of the play­offs. The way Chap­man went about his busi­ness, it was al­most Miller-es­que.

“That was im­pres­sive,” Fran­cona said. “I mean, kind of like what An­drew’s done, he kind of did the same thing.”

It’s a per­for­mance the Cubs would love to see a cou­ple more times.

“I like our chances when he’s in the game,” Cubs catcher David Ross said. “He’s a pres­ence.”

DAVID J. PHILLIP — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cubs closer Aroldis Chap­man throws dur­ing the sev­enth in­ning of Game 5 of World Se­ries game against In­di­ans on Sun­day in Chicago.

DAVID J. PHILLIP — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In­di­ans re­liever An­drew Miller throws dur­ing the sixth in­ning of Game 3 of World Se­ries game against Cubs last Fri­day in Chicago.

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