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CLE@CIN: Smith strikes out Phillips to escape jam

CINCINNATI -- The Indians' band of relievers has been referred to as the Bullpen Mafia. On Saturday, the group put its killer instinct on full display against the Reds and showed why it is earning a reputation as one of baseball's best units.

Cleveland lost starter Fausto Carmona in the third inning to a freak injury on the basepaths. Closer Chris Perez was on the bereavement list, out of town and unavailable. Still, the Tribe's assortment of arms combined to lock down a 3-1 Interleague victory at Great American Ball Park.

"Everybody knows their roles," said Indians reliever Frank Herrmann, who logged three innings and earned the first win of his career. "Everybody does their job. We've got some guys with some heart out there."

The bullpen has also been one of the main reasons behind Cleveland's rise from the American League Central cellar last season to the division's top spot this year. The Tribe's relief corps has a mix of arms that features a variety of styles and stuff. Together, the group has been dominant.

In its latest act, the bullpen combined for seven innings, striking out 10 and limiting the Reds to one run along the way. The result was a sixth straight win for the Indians (44-37) against the Reds, dating back to last season. Overall, the Tribe improved to 5-0 against Cincinnati and 11-6 versus the National League this year.

There was no doubt who deserved credit for the victory.

"This one is on our bullpen," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Once again, they were phenomenal."

The fact the the Tribe's bullpen, which entered Saturday with the second-best ERA (3.07) in the American League, stole the spotlight forced a chuckle from reliever Joe Smith.

Smith, surrounded by reporters, yelled over to fellow reliever Tony Sipp.

"Hey, Sipp!" Smith called out. "You hear that? The bullpen was the star of the game."

Smith turned back to the media.

"It's nice," he said. "In the bullpen, you don't get noticed unless you blow something."

This time around, the 'pen held the Reds (42-42) in check.

Acta was forced to turn to his relievers early after starter Carmona fell while sprinting to first base in the third inning. Carmona had bunted -- both he and Lou Marson were safe on the play thanks to an error by Reds shortstop Paul Janish -- but lost his balance as he closed on first.

After only two innings of work, Carmona exited with a strained right quadriceps and is considered day to day. The next hitter, Indians left fielder Michael Brantley, drilled a 2-0 pitch from Reds right-hander Homer Bailey down the right-field line for a three-run homer that gave the Tribe an early lead.

That was the extent of the offense against Bailey, who worked seven solid innings, and the two Reds relievers who followed.

"I didn't think it was going to be the last runs we scored," Brantley said. "But it was, and we still got a 'W' out of it."

Thanks to the Bullpen Mafia, which first earned that nickname as a popular hashtag on Twitter among Indians fans.

"They've been huge," Brantley said of the relief corps. "I see all the posters and everybody getting all crazy about the bullpen. They've been doing a terrific job each and every day giving us a chance to stay in games, to win games. We can't thank them enough."

Herrmann entered in relief of Carmona and pieced together three strong innings, using a hard heater and a sharp slider to limit the Reds to just one hit. Herrmann had not pitched since June 20 but has now allowed just one earned run over his past 15 2/3 innings.

"Frank Herrmann was just fantastic," Acta said. "He saved the day for us after Fausto got hurt."

Asked about the long layoff between appearances, Herrmann smiled.

"Manny knew what he was doing," Herrmann quipped. "He was saving me for the right spot. It was good to get in there. It feels really good to contribute. It's fun being on a good team, but it's even more fun when you can contribute and help out."

Left-hander Rafael Perez, who has a 1.60 ERA in 37 games this season, followed Herrmann with one scoreless inning. Then came Smith, who slipped into a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning after issuing a walk and allowing back-to-back singles to Fred Lewis and Edgar Renteria.

Smith then induced a fielder's choice off the bat of Drew Stubbs, who chopped the pitch to third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. The relay throw to the plate from Chisenhall arrived in time for the inning's second out. Smith followed with a strikeout of Brandon Phillips to escape unscathed.

Over his past 20 appearances, Smith has allowed no earned runs, lowering his season ERA to 0.99 in the process. A native of Cincinnati, the sidearmer joked that he only created the drama for the benefit of all his family and friends in attendance.

"When you come to your hometown," Smith deadpanned, "you've got to kind of be out there for a little bit. It's no fun if you just go one, two, three and get out of there. Goodness gracious.

"What are you going to do? Some days, you've got it. Some days, you don't. I got lucky today."

Sipp surrendered a solo home run to Reds slugger Joey Votto in the eighth inning, but that was the lone blemish on the bullpen's collective line. Righty Chad Durbin -- who has stranded 21 of the 23 inherited runners he has worked with this season -- finished the eighth and Pestano struck out the side to nail down a save in the ninth.

Pestano played closer for a day due to Perez, who lost his maternal grandmother earlier this week, traveling to Florida to be with his family for the funeral. Perez is scheduled to rejoin Cleveland's bullpen in Cincinnati on Sunday.

"He can have his job when he comes back," Pestano said.

Performing so well without Perez was telling in terms of how strong Cleveland's bullpen has been this season.

"That shows how deep those guys are," Acta said. "It's not a secret that those guys are good." Comments