Francona apologizes to Indians for bullpen blunder

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer watches from the dugout during the ninth inning of the team's baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Tuesday, July 10, 2018, in Cleveland. The Reds won 7-4. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

CLEVELAND (AP) Indians manager Terry Francona spent the night tossing, turning and trying to forget.

There are tough losses during the course of a season. And then there are troubling ones – like what happened Tuesday night.

”I thought about it at 1 o’clock. I thought about it at 2 o’clock. I thought about it at 3 o’clock. I thought about it at 4 o’clock,” Francona said Wednesday, still coping with the Indians’ shocking – and embarrassing – 7-4 loss to Cincinnati. ”Between 6 and 8 I actually slept.”

He wasn’t the only one with insomnia.

Francona and several of his coaches had trouble moving past a communication breakdown that helped the Reds score seven runs in the ninth inning. As the Reds were rallying, Francona wanted to bring in left-hander Oliver Perez to face slugger Joey Votto with two outs, the bases loaded and the Indians clinging to a 4-3 lead. But pitching coach Carl Willis thought he heard Francona tell him to summon right-hander Dan Otero.

Votto promptly hit a three-run double off Otero, giving the Reds a 6-4 lead.

”He thought I said O.T.,” Francona said, using Otero’s nickname. ”I said O.P.”

Whatever was said, it wasn’t OK as the Indians suffered their third straight loss and intensified discussion about a beleaguered bullpen that dropped to 5-16 with an AL-worst 5.37 ERA.

When he arrived at Progressive Field for the series finale, Francona felt the need to apologize to his players for his role in the gut-wrenching loss, which wasted a brilliant performance by All-Star Trevor Bauer, who struck out 12 in eight innings.

”It falls on me,” he said. ”But then, you’ve got to move on, too. So the best way for me to do that was I actually talked to the team and told them that I thought I messed up. And I apologized because I don’t like messing up. And inadvertently I came in last night and I thought took responsibility. But I also put O.T. in a tough spot. And I didn’t want to do that.

”So I told the guys. I said, `Hey man, that was not my intention.’ So I thought that was the best way for me to move on. It was a tough one. It was a tough night. I didn’t sleep very good.”

Francona said Willis, bench coach Brad Mills and bullpen coach Scott Atchison all felt culpable in the loss, but the Indians manager made it clear he’s the one who bears responsibility.

”Atch was killing himself,” Francona said. ”I said, `Let’s look back at it. You can’t pick up the phone and go, are you sure?’ You know, everybody is just so conscientious. It was a mistake and I’m confident it won’t happen again, but I don’t take it lightly either.”

Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman knows how Francona felt. As someone who has managed over 1,500 major league games, Riggleman knows how quickly a decision – good or bad – can escalate.

”Anybody who’s managed any length of time, something similar has happened,” said Riggleman, who has managed in San Diego, Chicago, Seattle and Washington. ”Whether it’s a lineup error or whether it’s a miscommunication in the dugout, a miscommunication on the phone to the bullpen, miscommunication on a double switch. I would almost have to call somebody and question, somebody who’s been in the game for a long time if it hasn’t happened at some time to them.”

”Because there’s just so many things said and done and decisions that are made, that the slightest misunderstanding can turn into that and you figure people who have done this between the minor leagues and big leagues, if you’ve done it 20 or 30 years, there’s going to be a few of those. It’s painful.”

Freelance reporter Ashley Bastock contributed to this report.