For Miller, Saturday a bittersweet experience

Closer picks up first Indians save against club he just left

For Miller, Saturday a bittersweet experience

NEW YORK -- If Andrew Miller could've pitched the last inning of the Indians' 5-2 win over the Yankees on Saturday at Yankee Stadium with his eyes closed, he would have.

The last thing he wanted to do was make eye contact with anyone other than his catcher. The opponents, the fans, the two dozen men watching from the home dugout, there were just too many distractions. He had to block everything out, no matter how difficult that was to do.

"None of it was fun," Miller said. "It's tough. It's just a huge distraction, honestly. It's a lot easier just to focus on executing pitches when there's no relationship or anything."

Miller earned his first save as an Indian on Saturday, striking out two with his go-to slider and stranding Brett Gardner, who led off the inning with a single, at second to deliver his team a victory. But, in a way, he was also snatching a victory from his team -- or at least what would've been his team a week ago.

Saturday was only Miller's third appearance in a Cleveland uniform. Prior to that, Miller was, of course, a Yankee. The Indians acquired Miller on July 31 in advance of the non-waiver Trade Deadline in a deal that sent four prospects -- including outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield -- to New York.

Facing a former team isn't uncharted territory for Miller. The Indians are the sixth team Miller has played for in his 11-year big league career. But what made Saturday different was that barely any time had passed. Miller was just traded a week ago, and returning to the park he didn't even have time to miss was a surreal experience.

Before Miller even threw a pitch, things were weird. While Miller was trying to avoid locking eyes with Gardner, a close friend, the Yankee Stadium crowd gave Miller a wild ovation, one that was significantly bigger than any Yankees pitcher received all day. It was at this point that Yankees manager Joe Girardi said things began to feel a little bizarre.

"He was just here, and it was kind of strange to see him come out," Girardi said. "I think the fans showed their appreciation for him and what he meant to us in the time we had him, which was nice."

But once the fans settled down, there was baseball to be played. And as hard as avoiding the distractions was for Miller, the baseball part might've been even harder for the Yankees.

"The fastball looks like [it's] about 105 [mph] and the slider you think is going to hit you and then it's a strike," said Gardner. "It [was] a tough, uncomfortable at-bat."

Miller said that Gardner put a good swing on the ball and Gardner said that he was happy just to run into the right pitch. As Brian McCann said, you have to guess whether you're going to get a fastball or a slider from Miller. And if you guess wrong, there's no adjusting. McCann's soft groundout to end the game was proof of that, as were Jacoby Ellsbury's and Mark Teixeira's at-bats, both of which ended with them chasing sliders in the dirt.

Indians manager Terry Francona said that an outing like this is exactly what his team wants and needs from Miller going forward.

"Well, he's going to help us," Francona said. "He can't hit, things like that. But when it's his turn to pitch, he's going to help us and make our bullpen better."

From the Yankees' side, Teixeira summed up the clubhouse's perspective best, saying that he wants the best for Miller, but sort of wishes he would've gone easier on his old friends.

As for Miller, he summed up his return to Yankee Stadium in bittersweet terms.

"It's a fun place to play," Miller said. "It's not the same as pitching on the home side, but it's an awesome place to play baseball -- and I'm glad I got the job done."

Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.