CINCINNATI -- Friday night seemingly belonged to Homer. But as far as the Indians were concerned, it really belonged to homer. Yes, Reds top prospect Homer Bailey, making his big-league debut in front of a large and energetic crowd at Great American Ball Park, didn't set up the Tribe's demise in a 4-3 loss nearly as much as homer did. The three home runs allowed by Cliff Lee were what made the difference in this one. "I couldn't keep the ball in the park, and that put them on top," Lee said. "This ballpark plays small. It's a park that's easy to hit a home run in."
At least, Brandon Phillips, Jeff Conine and Ken Griffey Jr. made it look that way. The three spoiled an otherwise encouraging outing for Lee, whose struggles in the fourth spot in the rotation had become quite a matter of concern for the Indians. Lee continued to have trouble staying efficient, but he did show improvement in controlling his fastball. That pitch helped Lee stay in a pitchers' duel with the 21-year-old Bailey, but his offense didn't do much to counter the three pitches that got away from him. The Indians made Bailey toss 47 pitches through two innings and 91 through four. Quite often they had him gasping for breath and teetering toward disaster. "We had a game plan," left fielder David Dellucci said. "We were trying to run his pitch count up." They ran it up, all right. But they didn't do much running across home plate. The Indians jumped ahead early when Travis Hafner took advantage of center fielder Norris Hopper's inability to hit the cutoff man and scored from first on Victor Martinez's double. After Phillips' solo homer off Lee in the bottom of the inning tied it -- complete with a hot-dog trot around the bases by the former Tribe prospect -- the Indians went ahead again in the fourth, when Dellucci drove in a run with a sac fly. But the Tribe stranded a runner in the first and second innings and two in the fourth, so the onus was on Lee to protect the slimmest of margins. He couldn't do it. In the bottom of the fourth, with a man on, he tried to run a cutter in on Conine, who pounded it into the left-field bleachers to make it 3-2.
The pitch selection was fine, in Lee's estimation. The location, however, was a bit off."I'd throw that same pitch again," he said. The Indians again had an opportunity to inflict damage on Bailey in his fifth and final inning of work, loading the bases with two outs and Dellucci coming up to bat. Bailey was winded, having thrown 110 pitches, but he didn't have much trouble getting Dellucci to strike out looking on four pitches, leaving the field to a rousing ovation from the home crowd. Dellucci made no excuses for taking the third strike, which was a fastball on the outer edge of the plate. "It was a strike," Dellucci said. "He had me guessing, and I guessed wrong." Lee, too, guessed wrong when he thought he could run a first-pitch breaking ball past Griffey in the sixth. Griffey slapped the slider out to right for his 577th career homer, and the Reds led, 4-2. Still, despite the disturbance of the dingers, manager Eric Wedge saw positives in Lee's outing, which resulted in his fourth straight loss. "He threw the ball a lot better," Wedge said. "He used all his pitches. That's the Cliff Lee we need." But Wedge doesn't need his hitters to come up empty with runners on, as they did during a game in which they went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine. "We definitely had our opportunities," Wedge said. "We didn't take advantage of them. We made the kid work and had him on the ropes a couple different times, but we never took advantage." By the time the Indians did take advantage of Great American's lean toward the long ball with Ryan Garko's pinch-hit solo shot off David Weathers in the ninth, it was too late. The Reds' Homer -- and homers -- had already paved the way to a Tribe defeat.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.