CLEVELAND -- When the bullpen door swung open in the ninth inning on Tuesday night, Indians manager Terry Francona was not expecting to see Dan Otero enter the field. With every step Otero took on his jog to the mound, Francona realized there had been a critical communication breakdown.
With the bases loaded, the game on the line and Reds star Joey Votto looming, Francona wanted lefty Oliver Perez for the two-out situation. This was a case of nicknames gone wrong, and the mixup did considerable damage in a 7-4 loss. All seven Cincinnati runs came in the ninth -- three on a three-run double by Votto -- to wash away a brilliant eight-inning performance by Trevor Bauer.
Francona has had a hard enough time working with Cleveland's beleaguered bullpen this season. The team's relief corps ranks last in baseball with a 5.37 ERA. The manager knew that he shared plenty of the blame for this collapse against Cincinnati.
"That one lands squarely on me," Francona said. "There's no getting around it. I've got to be responsible for that."
The game-changing mistake came while closer Cody Allen -- in the midst of a chaotic appearance -- issued an intentional walk to Scott Schebler. Francona turned to pitching coach Carl Willis in the home dugout and instructed him to call to the bullpen to have Perez warm up in case Votto came up.
The problem was that Francona used Perez's initials (O.P.) and Willis heard Otero's nickname (O.T.). So the pitching coach picked up the phone and called bullpen coach Scott Atchison, who followed orders and told Otero to start loosening up. After Allen's issues persisted in the form of a walk to Dilson Herrera to load the bases, Francona walked up the dugout steps and raised his left arm to signal for Perez.
"I should've asked him to repeat it," Willis said. "Quite frankly, heart of hearts, I felt like Cody was going to get out of the situation. But, you know, I made the mistake -- got the wrong guy up. It's not that [Otero] can't get the job done, but it probably wasn't the best matchup."
Willis noted that he checked his matchups sheet after calling the bullpen to get Otero -- a ground-ball specialist -- ready to enter. While the sample size is small, Votto had gone 0-for-4 with a strikeout in six career plate appearances against the righty. Even Votto admitted after the win that facing Otero is not a comfortable at-bat for him.
"He's tough, man. I've never liked facing him," Votto said. "Today was one of those occasions where I got a good pitch to hit, I put it in play and good things happen."
Otero, who did not think twice about being asked to face Votto, slipped into a full count against the Reds' first baseman, who then drilled a pitch deep into the right-center-field gap. All three runners scored, putting the Reds ahead for good, 6-4. Eugenio Suarez later added an RBI single to tack on an insurance run.
"I was ready. I'm always ready to pitch," Otero said. "I told [Francona] before the game I was ready to pitch. You've always got to be prepared down there for anything. I think I've told you guys that all the time, and I firmly believe that. I was fully ready. I made a mistake."
Votto's double was the decisive blow, but the Reds got things rolling against Allen.
Armed with a 4-0 lead, Allen's issues started when he hit Scooter Gennett with a pitch and then allowed an infield single to Suarez. The closer retired the next two batters in order, but Jose Peraza (bloop RBI single to right) and Adam Duvall (two-run double to left-center) delivered back-to-back pinch-hits to cut Cleveland's lead to one run.
Told of the mistake between Francona and Willis that led to Otero's entrance, Allen pointed to his own breakdown on the mound.
"We're confident in every guy that runs out of that gate," Allen said. "He shouldn't have been in that position in the first place. I take sole responsibility for everything that took place there."
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bauer's brilliance: Before the seven-run ninth, Bauer turned in arguably his best outing of the season. The pitcher piled up 12 strikeouts and scattered three singles in his eight scoreless innings. The Reds threatened in the seventh by loading the bases with two outs, but Bauer escaped that lone jam by inducing a flyout off the bat of Billy Hamilton. Bauer had 21 swinging strikes and 18 called strikes in the no-decision.
Bauer, who was named to his first All-Star team on Sunday, exited as the Major League leader in innings pitched (129 1/3), Fielding Independent Pitching (2.14), WAR (4.9, per Fangraphs) and homers per nine innings (0.35). He ranks fourth in baseball in strikeouts (168), fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (11.69) and sixth in ERA (2.30).
"[I used] breaking balls and some fastballs to offset their aggressiveness a little bit," Bauer said. "When teams are aggressive like that, there's ways to beat it. I have enough weapons in my arsenal that I can change things up and do that. It went well."
First-inning derby: It often seems like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are playing a game of, "Anything you can do, I can do better." In the first, Lindor led off with a home run against Reds starter Sal Romano, giving the shortstop 24 on the season. Two batters later, Ramirez launched a solo blast of his own. The third baseman now has 25 homers, which is tied for the second-most in MLB. That accounted for two of the four runs off Romano, who held the Tribe to a 1-for-16 showing from the third inning on.
Lindor is the first player in Indians history to have at least 50 extra-base hits and 80 runs scored before the All-Star break. Dating back to 1933, when MLB held the first Midsummer Classic, there have been seven players to achieve that feat. Lindor joins Ian Kinsler (2008), Todd Helton ('00-01, '03), Jose Pujols ('03), Frank Thomas ('94), Bobby Bonds ('73) and Reggie Jackson ('69) on that short list.
Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (9-5, 4.28 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the Tribe on Wednesday, when the Indians host the Reds in a 7:10 p.m. ET Interleague clash at Progressive Field. Carrasco has gone 7-4 with a 2.97 ERA in 18 career appearances against National League foes. Cincinnati will counter with righty Tyler Mahle (7-6, 3.66 ERA).