I love the playoffs. I really do. They bring out the best in players. When you are the only game in town and the only one playing on a National circuit, the lens can cut right through you or give you a spotlight to stand tall. A year ago, Shelby Miller was banished to the bullpen on the playoff roster. He didn’t pitch until the World Series was lost. Reasons were given. No one would buy them for a dollar. Mike Matheny didn’t like the matchup with the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Los Angeles Dodgers. When the Red Sox had taken control of Game 6, Miller came out and made an appearance. He seemed uninterested and out of it. After all, he was mopping up innings. He gave up a home run in his lone inning. The funny thing was Miller pitched 3.1 innings in the 2012 playoffs, but that was a rookie getting relief work. 2013 seemed to leave a bad taste in Miller’s mouth. He downplayed it at the Winter Warmup but every writer in that room knew, Shelby had a chip on his shoulder.
Imagine if you pitched 173.1 innings, compiled a record of 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA, and get pushed off the roster for a young kid named Michael Wacha, who made a handful of starts. Now, every fan knows what Wacha did and wouldn’t take it back for the world, but put yourself in Shelby’s shoes. The Texan had business to take care of. His season wasn’t the greatest, or at least the first four months. He was rocked in Pittsburgh in his first start but put together a solid April and first half of May. His last two starts in May were rough, as he allowed 11 earned runs. From the end of May to the middle point of the last week of August, Miller had two outstanding starts(WASH and TOR) but couldn’t last 6 innings in the other outings or got rocked.
His ERA by the month-
And then something changed in September. Miller threw his curve for strikes and got some confidence. He mixed in a sinker at times to help escape innings. He was efficient, winning 2 games with an earned run average of 1.48 in September. He earned a spot on the playoff rotation over Wacha this time with that performance.
You may be asking yourself..okay so why the story? Well, in order to appreciate Shelby Miller completely, you must respect where he came from.
Wacha came back(too soon in my opinion) in the beginning of September in order to see if he could win a roster spot. Miller had to get it together and out pitch Wacha for that 4th spot in the playoff rotation. He did and last Tuesday, he pitched 5.2 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers, keeping the West Coast bombers in check until Matt Adams could save the day with a home run. There were no nerves. Miller threw 82 pitches and was lifted in the middle of an inning out of fear of the Cards being able to crack 3 runs off Kershaw for the second time in a week. He did well, but tonight he is asked to do more. He is asked to reverse the tide of momentum back towards the Cardinals side of the field.
Last week, he was pitching to close out the series. Now, he is pitching to breathe air into the Birds chances. They don’t want to stare down Madison Bumgarner with a 3-1 deficit, so they ask Miller to step to the mound in San Francisco and put out the fire. Tuesday’s loss was nasty. The Cards battled back from a 4-0 deficit, but were undone by a poorly pitched and played frame from Randy Choate that had Mike Matheny’s fingerprints all over it. Shelby is pitching to ensure the Cards a flight back to St. Louis for Games 6 and if needed, a Game 7, which would be a rematch of John Lackey and Tim Hudson.
No pressure, Shelby. You are 24 years old and are the first round draft pick everybody wants to see succeed, get traded, get bumped by Carlos Martinez or Wacha, or simply go away. A mixture of opinions follow Miller around his second full season in the big leagues. This is nothing. This kid was told to develop a second pitch and he did, adding the curveball to his already imposing four seam fastball. He was told to lose weight, gain it back and get in shape. Adam Wainwright said he is the second strongest guy on the team. I said earlier this season that he needed a trip to Memphis to clear his head. He got a bullpen trip instead and came back and slowly won some respect and self esteem back.
Tonight, he pitches on the road with his team down 2-1 and badly in need of a good commanding start. I believe in Shelby. He has transformed himself over the past two months in a similar way that Lance Lynn did this season. He took his lumps and kept his head up. The big leagues, like life itself, can beat a man to his knees if he lets it. Miller is still strong, standing on those two sturdy Southern legs that are rumored to be able to squat over 400 pounds.
This evening, Cards fans, bloggers and writers get to see how far Shelby Miller has come.