Andrew Miller, who’s only human in spite of his reputation, knew the split second Greg Bird swung his bat Sunday that the fastball he threw the Baby Bomber wasn’t long for this world. It wasn’t even long for Yankee Stadium.
Miller had just ended a bases loaded threat when he got Starlin Castro to pop out to the back of the infield an inning earlier. Now, Miller had just thrown Bird a pair of sliders Bird couldn’t have hit with a shovel. And then it came.
“I made a mistake both in location and what I was trying to do,” Miller said without flinching after the 1-0 final kept the Yankees barely alive to play another day. “You try to learn from it and move on. You face a lot of the same guys over and over in a series like this, so you tip your cap and move on.
“It was a good swing,” the tall lefthander continued. “My thought process was just clearly flawed. With hindsight, I probably should have thrown a different pitch. What I was trying to do was just wrong in that situation, and I paid dearly for it.”
He paid with Bird driving it into the second deck in right. On a day when both pitching staffs threw whatever they had to keep both sides off the board otherwise, it was more than enough to save the Yankees’ season. For a day, at least.
Giving Bird credit was only right. All season long, lefthanded hitters had hit a mere buck sixty-four with only one extra base hit. And that was a bomb by the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger in an interleague game in June at the Prog.
And Bird knew how rare it was for him to have done what he did Sunday. “He’s one of the best, if not the best, relievers in our game,” said the youthful Yankee who’s shown a cache of power in the past three seasons when he hasn’t been injured, including missing all 2016 after shoulder surgery and most of this season with an ankle injury.
“I’ve never faced him until this series,” he continued, “but I’ve seen it on our side and seen how good he is. Really, the respect I have for him on and off the field — I don’t know if there’s anybody like him.”
“He’s human,” said Lindor. “He’s helped us win a lot this year and last year. When we lose a game like that, it’s part of the game. We understand it’s going to happen.”
The Game Three loss isn’t on Miller alone, of course. It was too easy to be spoiled by his success. Last postseason he looked invincible. And, pretty much was, until Game Seven, when now-retired Cub catcher David Ross—smarting over a wild throw after retrieving a wild pitch—opened the top of the sixth by smacking one over the center field fence on Miller’s dollar to open the inning.
Come Sunday, the Indians’ hitters couldn’t hit Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter with garage doors, on a day Tanaka picked to pitch probably the best game of his season, if not his career. Jay Bruce, who’s been one of the Indians’ more reliable power plants, knew the splitter was coming each time up and still struck out three times.
“He pitched at the bottom of the zone all night,” said Bruce, who became an Indian after the hapless, injury-depleted Mets dealt him in August. “It looked like it had enough height to take a good swing at it, and then the bottom fell out of it. I think we all knew going in that if he was going to have success, that would have to be how he did it.”
And Bird’s blast might have been a mere nuisance had Aaron Judge, whom the Indians’ pitchers have kept quiet throughout this division series, not stolen a two-run homer from Francisco Lindor a half inning earlier.
Judge may be looking only too human at the plate this series, but he looked like Spider-Man, or at least Karl Wallenda, when the 6’7″ Yankee ran down Lindor’s drive, took just enough of a leap, and speared it before it might have landed in the glove of notorious souvenir collector Zack Semple sitting right behind the fence, glove open and ready.
“I started going back and I thought I had a little bit of room,” Judge said after the game. “But once I felt the wall, I just gave it about a six-inch jump and was able to get it.” At his height, a six-inch jump equals a hopscotch play for mere mortals.
Yankee third baseman Todd Frazier was only too glad it was Judge to make the play. “He’s Bigfoot out there,” Frazier said. “All he had to do is reach his hand up. I’m just glad it was him. I know I’d have to jump as high as possible to get that thing.”
The Yankees jumped just high enough to survive Sunday. But they’re still in elimination mode for Monday, while the Indians still have a cushion. A cushion that got thinned a little the hard way Sunday.