The Cleveland Indians are champions of the American League for the first time since 1997. They are four wins away from the franchise’s first World Series title since 1948. The improbable run has come after losing Michael Brantley, the best hitter on the team, in early May. It’s come with a smaller payroll than two-thirds of other Major League Baseball squads. It’s come despite long odds.
Their success comes from every man rowing at the same time, in the same direction. The roster is not peppered with household names. Players have stepped up all year as the team never veered too far off course.
The Indians never lost more than three straight games because young players like Francisco Lindor blossomed into a stars, veterans like Mike Napoli found new life and unknowns like Roberto Perez didn’t blink when the lights intensified. Their hands rarely wavered. They were steady in both demeanor and result.
They are American League champions because they just kept winning.
Hell, Ryan Merritt started Game 5 of the ALCS and was masterful for four innings.
They were the polar opposite of Murphy’s Law. Call it [Terry] Francona’s Law: Anything that could go right, did go right.
But perhaps no single factor was more important to the jump from good to great than putting a world-class weapon like Andrew Miller in the capable hands of a top-notch manager. The way Francona has been using his unhittable lefty reliever to shut the door on opposing teams this postseason has been masterful.
Of course, it’s easy to look like a genius when the guy you hand the ball to gets everyone out. During the playoffs, Miller has thrown 11.2 innings, allowing no runs and four hits while striking out 21.
Francona has used him whenever he needed him most. In Game 1 of the ALDS against Boston, Miller entered in the fifth inning and earned the win. He’s since come on twice in the sixth, twice in the seventh and once in the eighth. In an era of specialists, there’s something old-school about Miller’s ability to get outs at any time — and Francona’s confidence to use him at any time.
The American League side of the playoff bracket began with Baltimore’s Buck Showalter never firing his top bullpen bullet in Zach Britton. They close with another veteran manager figuring out new ways to fire his.
With the Cleveland starting rotation shaky entering the World Series, Miller may be asked to do something even more unconventional against either Los Angeles or Chicago. He’s proven he can handle anything by proving hitters can’t touch him — no matter how early or late his call time.