Inarguably, one of the biggest moments of Game 1 happened in the seventh inning. Really, a handful of the biggest moments of Game 1 happened in the seventh inning, but the top half ended with Andrew Miller whiffing David Ross with two down and the bases loaded. The score at that point was a manageable 3-0, and the showdown got people talking. In part, there was confusion over why Ross was hitting there in the first place. Ross is not that good a hitter! But, he was definitely the one up there, and he is not a bad baseball player. Maybe most remarkable was this:
That’s the other thing people have discussed. At 3-and-1, with nowhere for Ross to go, Miller threw a slider. At 3-and-2, with still nowhere for Ross to go, Miller threw a slider. Those are what are referred to as classic fastball counts, and the perception is that there’s a lot of risk in going offspeed, because those pitches are more likely to be balls. Indeed, the final pitch wound up out of the zone, but Miller got Ross to chase, which is kind of his thing. It’s not Ross’ fault that Miller is some sort of baseball god.
The at-bat inspired some wonderful writing. In there, you see a discussion over what pitches there were, and what pitches Ross was expecting. It takes some balls to throw back-to-back sliders in that situation. I searched for precedent. I bet you’re not surprised to learn Miller hasn’t pitched that much this year with the bases loaded. When he has, he’s even less frequently been in three-ball counts. In fact, this year, before yesterday, Miller had thrown two three-ball pitches with the bases loaded. They both came on May 6, with the Yankees leading the Red Sox 3-2 in the top of the ninth. Miller threw a 3-and-1 pitch to David Ortiz, and he threw a 3-and-2 pitch to David Ortiz.
Here’s the first of them.
The count ran to 3-and-1 in the first place after a fastball/slider/fastball/slider sequence. It’s the same sequence that took Miller to 3-and-1 against Ross. Back in May, against Ortiz, Miller threw a 3-and-1…slider, for a close called strike. Now, it looks worse in the video, because the catcher was crossed up. The catcher was crossed up! And Miller still got the strike. That’s good umpiring! But it made Ortiz upset, because he turned around and saw the catcher fumbling, and so he made some assumptions. John Farrell came out to keep Ortiz from getting ejected. Farrell got ejected.
So, full count. Bases still loaded, one still out, one still the deficit. This is about as high-leverage as it can get in the first week of May. Miller threw the baseball that he had.
Slider, called strike, strikeout. Does the pitch seem kind of low to you? It definitely seemed kind of low to John Farrell, who — wait, what was Farrell doing still in the dugout? Get out of there!
People were heated. Ortiz got ejected. His getting ejected mattered less after the at-bat than it would have in the middle of it. It was a generous strike call. It was maybe probably a ball. Tough couple pitches.
But it’s not the results that matter to me. It’s just the process and the precedent. Miller got a lot of credit for throwing Ross two three-ball sliders. On the only two comparable pitches he threw this year, he also threw sliders. That’s kind of the thing about guys who throw 60% sliders — they don’t do that unless they really, really trust the pitch. For all intents and purposes, Andrew Miller’s slider is his fastball. At least, in the way we think about pitchers conventionally. Against Miller, it’s impossible to rule out the slider, ever. It’s among the things that make him nearly unhittable.
Andrew Miller threw David Ross some tough sliders in a difficult spot. Andrew Miller throws tough sliders. The best pitchers can do whatever they want.