'Re-energized' Votto's 2 HRs fuel comeback

September 21st, 2021

CINCINNATI -- If the Reds end up sneaking into the postseason, they’ll be able to point to one player who single-handedly made sure things didn’t go completely sideways down the stretch run.

isn’t the only reason the Reds spent the summer as a strong contender to grab one of the two National League Wild Card spots. But it’s hard to imagine they’d be anywhere near where they are now -- even with the recent slide that significantly decreased their playoff odds -- without Votto, whose two homers in Cincinnati’s 9-5 win over the Pirates on Monday allowed the club to keep pace with the Cardinals (80-69) in the Wild Card race. The Reds (78-73) remain three games out of the second spot.

Manager David Bell couldn’t have predicted Votto’s outburst at the plate, but he wasn’t surprised when it happened. Bell mentioned seeing a peppier Votto the past few days leading up to Monday’s win.

“Even before the home runs, just being around him the last day or so and seeing him in the box … he's had such a great year, but I do think, just over the last day or so, he's kind of been re-energized,” Bell said. “Any player goes through stretches where they're fighting through it a little bit, you might be a little fatigued, even though you might not want to admit that. He just looked re-energized over the last 24 hours.”

That energy bubbled over to the rest of the Reds' lineup. This win represented a dramatic turn for the home team, who -- following a one-hour, 25-minute rain delay -- watched things unravel quickly for starter Vladimir Gutierrez. The 26-year-old right-hander yielded five runs to the Bucs in the first three innings, but Cincinnati roared back, scoring six unanswered runs, all with two outs. Votto was behind much of it.

Votto’s first homer was a two-run shot off a Dillon Peters curveball that traveled 376 feet to right-center, capping a four-run Reds rally in the third.

Votto hit the second one off Cody Ponce in the fifth, a solo shot that tied the game at 5. Eugenio Suárez followed with another homer, giving the Reds a lead that held up, thanks to 5 2/3 scoreless innings by the bullpen.

“Comebacks are going to be necessary, not only in our record in the standings, but in games at times,” Votto said. “It can be challenging when you're down runs early. But we're going to win as a unit.”

The multihomer effort was Votto’s fourth this year, and the 17th of his career. Including his pinch-hit homer off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on Sunday, Votto logged three homers in four plate appearances. He reached base in all five PAs on Monday, walking twice and hitting a single in the eighth.

The fact that Votto turned 38 this year and is having somewhat of a renaissance has been an ongoing topic of conversation for much of the season. There is almost a guarantee that it will resurface when Votto has a particularly good night. Monday was no exception.

“It’s pretty awesome, right?” Nick Castellanos said. “The fact that he’s this late in his career. He’s been able to kind of rediscover himself and put together the year that he’s had, the fun that he’s having swinging the bat, just the way he’s really enjoying the game is awesome. If he’s having a good time, we all want to be a part of that.

“We all feed off of each other, and Joey says it best: ‘If we’re going to do this thing, we’ve got to do it together.’ That’s the only way.”

The Reds are still on the outside looking in, given how much ground they have to make up and how few games (11) remain on the regular-season schedule. Having to overcome a large deficit early, even against a struggling team like the Pirates, is never easy. Doing it this late in the season can be an extra burden, even more so when there have been more losses than wins down the stretch.

“Not where we wanted to be,” Votto said of being down early. “But we're not going to quit, you're not just going to fold. There's none of that sort of perspective. That's how it's going to be. You're going to have to come back in games. It's the only chance we have.”