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Confusion reigns at Reds-Indians when second ball gets loose on the field

Umpires correctly sorted out, apparently, what had to be one of the more chaotic plays in recent Major League Baseball history Tuesday night at Progressive Field. And yet, at least one extra-large question remains:

Did Cincinnati Reds right-hander Jumbo Diaz (he's a big man) intentionally throw a ball onto the field from the bullpen — over a 9-foot fence — in order to create the chaos that helped to snuff a Cleveland Indians rally? Diaz pleaded innocent, and Indians manager Terry Francona said he didn't think Diaz did it on purpose, but player David Murphy probably still is wondering.

Murphy got caught off third base in the seventh inning after a second ball that Diaz threw came onto the field in the middle of a developing play. Murphy understandably got confused about which was the genuine article. Umpires wouldn't help him by blowing the play dead after the fact, either, because the rules say it was Murphy's responsibility to know which ball was right.

Instead of being in scoring position, Murphy was out. The Indians lost 9-2 to the Reds.

C. Trent Rosecrans compiled an exhaustive oral history of the play for the Cincinnati Enquirer. In it he notes what Murphy said to the Reds bullpen after taking his position on defense in the outfield:

"Yeah, I told them 'Good job.' "

It all seemed so unlikely. With runners at first and third and the Tribe trailing 6-1 against right-hander Johnny Cueto, Yan Gomes lined a ball over the head of outfielder Jay Bruce, who picked it up on the warning track in front of the Reds bullpen and fired a throw toward the infield. About that moment, another ball was thrown onto the field by Diaz that had a similar trajectory. TV broadcasts found a great angle that shows the ball being thrown out of the reach of bullpen catcher Nelson Antigua.

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A warmup pitch is thrown out of the reach of Reds bullpen catcher Nelson Antigua.

A warmup pitch is thrown out of the reach of Reds bullpen catcher Nelson Antigua.

 

"I was warming up and I threw a high fastball to Antigua and it goes onto the field," Diaz said. "I didn't know what happened [next] until I got in here [to the clubhouse]. It's good for Cueto — just one run. We got that out at third base."

Yeah, how about that!

"It was so high, I didn't have a chance," Antigua said. "I just looked back on the field and said, 'Oh my God.'"

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Our man Jumbo Diaz. (AP)

Our man Jumbo Diaz. (AP)

It's reasonable to think that, perhaps, the throw tipped off Antigua's mitt and continued over the fence and onto the field. But it was all Jumbo.

"It never touched my glove," Antigua said.

Infielder Kristopher Negron caught Bruce's throw — despite the extra ball coming into his area around the same time — and relayed to Zach Cozart at the second-base bag, but Gomes slid in safely for an RBI double.

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Kristopher Negron does a good job ignoring the doppelganger ball.

Kristopher Negron does a good job ignoring the doppelganger ball.

Meanwhile at third base, Murphy saw the loose ball in the outfield and started to dash toward home before changing his mind. But he had strayed just enough from the bag. Cozart's throw to Ramon Santiago was in time and he tagged out Murphy.

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'What happened?' (USA Today)

'What happened?' (USA Today)

"As a player, you're taught two things," Murphy said. "You're taught to listen to your base coach and you're taught to find the ball. So, I hear him saying, '[Stay] right here!' Right here!' And then I see a ball and I'm like, 'But I can make it' [home]. Obviously, the timing of it and everything was crazy and bizarre, and the situation was unfortunate."

Not if you're the Reds.

"I've never seen that before — you always see something new in baseball, and that's why baseball is such a beautiful game," Santiago said.

The extra ball on the field called to mind this famous play:

OH... that was from a movie.

Francona came out to argue for Murphy, but later said the explanation from crew chief Gerry Davis was right: Umpires can't stop a play in progress just because a stray ball goes onto the field. Unlike — say — billiards, baseball is supposed to be played with one ball at all times. Except for when it's not.

Perhaps that's right, but it doesn't seem just. Couldn't umpires be allowed to blow the play dead retroactively, check video replay, and put the runners where they otherwise belong?

"I feel bad for Murphy," Cozart said. "He's thinking for sure the ball is just laying out in the grass out there. I had the ball in my glove and he's trying to get going. I'm like, 'What's he doing?' And I forgot the ball was out there."

Regardless, if it all was a big accident, Murphy wonders if another team might take advantage of the loophole someday.

"I'm sure nobody has really seen anything like that before," Murphy said. "But ... after seeing that, a team could think about that now."

CHAOS! Francona said no, he doesn't think Diaz had sabotage on his mind. But if he did...

"No. No," Francona said. "[Shoot], if they were that good, they deserve it."

 

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David Brown is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

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