And when Luis Vizcaino surrendered the game-winning RBI double to Alex Gonzalez in the 11th, the Indians had officially dropped this year's first three-game installment of the Ohio Cup.
But don't blame Vizcaino for this loss. And don't blame Cliff Lee, who turned in another quality start.
"The difference today was not getting that one hit with runners in scoring position," manager Eric Wedge said. "We needed someone to step up and get that knock so we could get [closer] Kerry Wood into the game. It just didn't happen."
The big hits belonged to the Reds early. Lee didn't work quite as quickly or efficiently as he does on his best days. He went six innings, allowing three runs on eight hits with a walk and four strikeouts. He served up a solo shot to Jerry Hairston Jr. in the first and RBI singles to Gonzalez in the fourth and sixth. That latter RBI single came after Lee let Jonny Gomes advance into scoring position on a wild pitch.
"If I don't throw that wild pitch, that run doesn't score and we win the game," Lee reasoned. "It's frustrating knowing that."
But Lee, who admitted he didn't have his "A game," still pitched well enough to win the ballgame. He just needed some offensive support.
He got enough to atone for the runs allowed. The Indians were sparked offensively by Luis Valbuena, whose RBI double to right in the fourth scored Shoppach from first. Jay Bruce picked up the ball and fired it to second baseman Hairston, whose relay throw home was high, allowing Kelly Shoppach to slide in under the tag of catcher Ryan Hanigan.
Down, 3-1, in the seventh, the Indians rallied to tie the game on a bizarre play. Valbuena doubled to open the inning and moved to third on a groundout. With two out, Grady Sizemore punched a triple into the right-field corner to score Valbuena, and Sizemore himself scored on what was ruled obstruction on the part of third baseman Adam Rosales.
The relay throw to nab Sizemore at third went through Rosales' legs, and third-base umpire Rob Drake ruled that Rosales obstructed Sizemore's ability to run home when the ball kicked away. Left fielder Jonny Gomes backed up the throw and fired the ball home. Sizemore was originally ruled out on the play at the plate by home-plate umpire Mark Wegner before Drake intervened. Replays showed Sizemore might have slid past Hanigan's tag anyway.
"I wasn't aware [obstruction had been called]," Sizemore said. "We didn't necessarily run into each other. [Rosales] was more in my path, and I had to hesitate a little bit. I was a little surprised [Drake] called it."
So was Reds skipper Dusty Baker, who argued the call to no avail.
And so it was a tie ballgame headed into the late innings, and a battle of the bullpens broke out.
The Indians proved to be well-equipped for this battle, as their bullpen has shown marked improvement in recent days. Matt Herges held the Reds scoreless in the seventh and eighth, and Rafael Betancourt did likewise in the ninth and 10th.
Trouble was, the Reds' relief crew was just as effective against the Tribe bats, which were not opportunistic. The Indians got the leadoff man aboard and into scoring position in the eighth and ninth innings and had nothing to show for it. Shin-Soo Choo singled to open the eighth and moved to second on a sac bunt, but Ben Francisco and Valbuena both grounded out. In the ninth, pinch-hitter David Dellucci reached with a leadoff single, moved to second on a sac bunt and was stranded when Sizemore struck out and Victor Martinez flew out.
The Indians paid for all this in the 11th. Vizcaino, who had worked two scoreless innings Saturday, was summoned and promptly served up a leadoff single to Ramon Hernandez, a sac bunt to Rosales and Gonzalez's game-winning double, which came on a hanging slider.
It was another tough loss, and the Indians are familiar with the feeling.
"If you win this game, you win two series in a row, and that's the type of thing you look for, in regard to making progress," Wedge said. "We're a pitch away or a hit away."
That hit did not come Sunday.