CLEVELAND -- A confused David Murphy sat on his knees at third base, pointing out toward shallow center field with a confounded gaze. The Indians' right fielder had just been thrown out, but there was a baseball still resting in the grass just beyond the infield.
Murphy had one prevailing thought as he tried to sort out Tuesday night's seventh-inning mystery.
"My mind is playing tricks on me," Murphy said.
A bizarre chain of events led to the unlikely out at third, killing a potential Cleveland rally in the Reds' 9-2 romp over their in-state rivals at Progressive Field. The putout went 9-4-6-5 in the scorebook, but credit Cincinnati reliever Jumbo Diaz with an unusual assist -- one that the Indians were not allowed to have examined via instant replay.
At the precise moment that Reds right fielder Jay Bruce was retrieving the baseball that Indians catcher Yan Gomes slashed to deep right field for a double, Diaz uncorked a wild pitch while warming up in the visitors' bullpen behind the wall. Diaz's errant throw tipped off the glove of bullpen catcher Nilson Antigua, sailed over Bruce and landed in shallow right-center field.
That initiated an usual scene in Cleveland.
"That's one of the strangest things I've ever seen," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "And it helped us out."
The play in question came with no outs, runners on first and second base and Cincinnati holding a commanding 6-1 lead with Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto on the mound. Gomes sent a 1-2 offering to right field to easily score Lonnie Chisenhall from second base. Murphy hustled from first to third base and immediately looked to third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh.
Sarbaugh signaled for Murphy to stop at third, and Cleveland's right fielder complied. At that moment, Reds shortstop Zack Cozart had received a relay throw from second baseman Kris Negron, who caught the the throw from Bruce. During Negron's relay to second, where Gomes slid in safely, the second baseball was rolling behind the bag.
As Cozart walked away from second with the live baseball tucked in his glove, Murphy spotted the second baseball in the outfield.
That is when Murphy made a move toward home plate.
"I didn't know where it came from," Sarbaugh said. "Murph did what you teach guys to do. After you find the bag, you find the ball. It just happened to be the wrong ball. I hope that never happens again."
Cozart quickly snapped a throw to third baseman Ramon Santiago, who applied the tag on Murphy as he attempted to dive back into the base. Murphy was still confused over the situation, believing that he had made the right decision.
"We don't have time for me to turn around and be like, 'Where'd that ball come from?'" Murphy said. "Or for [Sarbaugh] to be like, 'There's two balls on the field. There's two balls on the field.' It's just like, 'Boom, boom, boom.'
"I'm like, 'OK, he's telling me to stay, but I think I can go. What do I do?' And then I take off and then I'm like, 'This just doesn't add up.'"
Price was not sure what happened right away, either.
"I thought maybe a fan threw the ball out there," said Price. "And then I knew we had two guys in the bullpen going and a guy could have shot [or] bounced one over the catcher. The timing like that was unusual. I'm sure that's going to go down as one of those plays that we see in-between innings for years to come. It's unfortunate, certainly, for their club."
After Murphy was ruled out, Indians manager Terry Francona emerged from the dugout and chatted things over with third-base umpire and crew chief Gerry Davis. Unfortunately for Cleveland, there was nothing Francona could do after the play finally concluded.
"Gerry Davis, his explanation was right on," Francona said. "It wasn't fun to hear. I thought I saw what I saw, but they can't kill the play until the conclusion. I understand the rule. They said, 'We understand your frustration. There's nothing we can do,' which I understand."
Francona did not believe the wild throw from the bullpen was intentional.
"No," Francona said. "If they were that good, they deserve it."
Diaz had a sense of humor about the play following Cincinnati's victory.
"I tell [Cueto] like, 'I saved you in that game, saved a couple runs on that play,'" Diaz joked.
What frustrated Murphy was the fact that Francona could not review the play, which would have resulted in runners on second and third with no outs under normal circumstances. Instead, Cueto recovered by retiring the next two batters he faced to escape more damage. The Cleveland faithful then unleashed a chorus of boos as the Reds walked off the field.
"I think the play could be reviewed," Murphy said. "Of course, it's frustrating. My intentions were to stay at third. I don't really know how to break it down with words. It's frustrating because of the situation we're in, because we have momentum, we're trying to make a comeback. That happens, and an out like that in a rally like that kind of kills it."
Murphy also worried that this play could create a dangerous gray area.
"Everything was crazy and bizarre, and the situation was unfortunate," Murphy said. "I'm sure nobody has really seen anything like that before, but if you think about it, seeing that, a team could think about that now. Most teams play the game the ethical way, but maybe there needs to be a rule instituted."