Orioles left-hander Andrew Miller pitches in the sixth inning… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
DETROIT -- As left-handed reliever Andrew Miller spoke to the media in the clubhouse hallway Sunday night after the Orioles' American League Division Series clincher in Detroit, he was interrupted by a bellow.
"You did it, Andrew," said the excited voice. "You did it."
Miller smiled and shook hands with the giddy man to his right: Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette, who acquired Miller in a July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline deal with the Boston Red Sox.
Whether you're an Orioles fan or you just happen to run the organization, it's hard not to be pumped about what Miller has done in his two-plus months in Baltimore.
In 23 regular-season games with the Orioles, Miller was 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA, allowing just three runs in 20 innings. He gave up eight hits, walked four and struck out 34. If possible, he has taken his game to a level higher in the postseason.
In two appearances in the ALDS, Miller was called on to face 11 batters. He retired 10 — all in a row after walking two-time reigning AL Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera in Game 1 at Camden Yards.
"It was incredible. It was a lot of fun," Miller said of his first postseason series. "I walked the first hitter I faced, but I think I settled in after that. It's just been a blast being around here."
Miller was with the World Series champion Red Sox last season, but he couldn't fully bask in their title glory.
Last July, he tore a ligament in between the bones of his left foot and had season-ending surgery. He was still with the team as Boston made its run through October, but only watched. That has been a major motivating factor for Miller this season — especially as the Orioles' pennant race heated up.
"I think there is something to that," Miller said. "I was fortunate to be included the way I was last year, but ultimately it's not the same as being out there and contributing. All I've ever asked for is to be a contributing member of a good team. And I feel like I am starting to accomplish that."
Friendly and soft-spoken, Miller has meshed perfectly with a close-knit bullpen that was already the strength of the club before he arrived. He generally throws only two pitches, a fastball that averages 94 mph and an 84-mph slider that seemingly disappears at times. At 6 feet 7, 210 pounds, batters feel like he's on top of them when he delivers, drawing favorable comparisons to another big left-hander, future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.
In August, Miller joined a bullpen that already featured an array of diverse options, such as hard-throwing right-hander Tommy Hunter, Frisbee-flipping sidearmer Darren O'Day and left-handed sinkerballer Zach Britton. Orioles manager Buck Showalter immediately began using Miller in high-leverage situations the way he did with his big three.
"He threw me into the fire right away to see if I could handle it," Miller said. "And I feel like I answered that question."
Perhaps no situation was dicier than Thursday, when Miller entered Game 1 in the top of the sixth inning and the Orioles clinging to a one-run lead. The middle of the Tigers' dangerous order was due up: Two right-handers and a switch-hitter — which is traditionally a spot for a right-handed pitcher who isn't typically saved for the late innings.
Miller hadn't pitched before the seventh for the Orioles this season. But this is the playoffs. And he is as equally nasty on right-handers (.145 opponents' batting average, 55 strikeouts in 124 at-bats) as he is versus lefties (.163 average, 48 strikeouts in 92 at-bats). So he got the call.
After walking Cabrera, he struck out Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, and Alex Avila popped up. He picked up two more outs in the seventh in a game the Orioles eventually won, 12-3. Miller was the essential bridge between starter Chris Tillman and the rest of the bullpen.
"It was such a right-handed lineup, [Showalter] wanted to get me in first in a lot of ways," Miller said. "It worked out well. I couldn't have asked for it better, you couldn't have scripted it as well as this for me."
In Sunday's clincher at Comerica Park, Miller was summoned with one on and one out in the seventh in relief of starter Bud Norris. With the Orioles winning, 2-0, Miller recorded two quick outs to end that inning and induced three groundouts in the eighth before passing the baton to Britton in the ninth.
"We were gonna ride the horse on [Sunday], and he was that horse for us," Britton said. "He can strike guys out. He went through that heart of the lineup pretty easily. And just leaving that two-run cushion for me was big."