CLEVELAND — The Reds and Johnny Cueto got an assist from the bullpen Tuesday night but not in the normal way.
A wild pitch from reliever Jumbo Diaz sailed over the glove of bullpen catcher Nilson Antigua and out of the Reds’ bullpen behind the right field wall at Progressive Field during the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s 9-2 Reds win against the Indians. The ball came onto the field of play at the same time Reds right fielder Jay Bruce was retrieving a ball hit by Cleveland’s Yan Gomes, a hit that went for a double, drove in one run and sent David Murphy to third base with no outs as the Indians attempted to overcome a 6-1 deficit.
The only problem is that Murphy, along with most everyone else in the crowd of 22,068, saw the errant ball sitting in the outfield grass behind second base. Murphy wandered off third base not realizing shortstop Zack Cozart had the ball that was in play. Cozart threw to third baseman Ramon Santiago, who tagged out Murphy.
That effectively killed Cleveland’s would-be rally. Chris Dickerson grounded out to second baseman Kristopher Negron and Jose Ramirez flew out to Bruce to leave Gomes stranded at third base and keep the Reds’ lead at four runs, 6-2.
Cozart nearly saved Murphy and the Indians by calling timeout but held up when he turned and saw Murphy straying from the bag.
"I looked up and I was halfway looking over there and I saw Murphy inching off the bag," said Cozart. "I didn’t know what he was doing. I had the ball. I’m looking at him and he kept getting off.
"I kind of feel bad for Murphy because he thought for sure that the ball was just laying out in the grass out there and I had the ball in my glove. I’m looking at him and he’s trying to get going. I’m like ‘What’s he doing’ and then I forgot the ball was out there."
Cleveland third base coach Mike Sarbaugh was yelling for Murphy to get back to the bag but no one was blaming Murphy for the play. His back was to the play. He saw Sarbaugh hold him up from attempting to score, turned around and picked up what he thought was the live ball on the ground.
"As a player you are taught two things — listen to your base coach and find the ball," said Murphy. "My base coach is saying ‘right here, right here’ but as a player you don’t want to completely rely on the guy. You use him for help but try to play the game and use your instincts and then I see the ball and think I can make it. Obviously the timing of it and everything was crazy and bizarre. The situation was unfortunate; no one has seen anything like that before."
Cleveland manager Terry Francona came out to talk with third base umpire Gerry Davis but to no avail. By rule, the umpires had to let the play unfold.
"Gerry Davis, his explanation was right on," said Francona. "It wasn’t fun to hear. I thought I saw what I saw. They can’t kill the play until the conclusion. I understand the rule. The umpires understood my frustration but there’s nothing we can do. I watched it again and the exact moment their right-hander, the catcher was up and he heaved it over his glove. It was like perfect timing and the responsibility falls on our coaches or runners and Sarby told Murphy to stay there but if you’re Murph and you have your back to the play when it happens no matter what Sarby tells you when you see the ball there you know they can’t throw you out. It was unfortunate and kind of flukey but that’s how it goes."
Diaz, a right-hander, was warming up in the bullpen along with left-hander Manny Parra. His fastball to Antigua went high of its intended target. Antigua said he never got his catcher’s mitt on the ball and off it headed towards second base.
"I initially started running after the first ball that somehow got in play," said Negron, the second baseman. "I didn’t know because I was watching the play and as soon as Jay turned around to play the ball off the fence I checked the runners. When I turned around there was a ball coming to me on the ground so I started running after that ball and then I saw Jay throw a ball at me. I stopped and caught that ball."
No one except Diaz and Antigua seemed to realize right away where the second ball came from. Most thought a fan in the stands may have thrown the ball.
"I got the ball and I look up and there’s a ball flying over my head and I was like ‘I don’t know where that’s from,’" said Bruce. "I just got the ball and I threw it in. That’s obviously not our ball that we were playing with. I threw it to Negron and he threw it to Cozart and I saw Murphy get off the bag and I didn’t know what he was doing. When they tagged him out nobody said anything. You think you’ve seen it all."
The uncanny timing of the play led one reporter to ask Francona if he thought anything suspicious had happened. He shot that idea down.
"(Shoot) if they were that good, they’re really good," said Francona. "If they’re that good, they deserve it."