CINCINNATI -- The Reds’ chances of making the playoffs are hanging by the thinnest of threads, but Joey Votto is intent on getting the most from those limited odds. After he missed two games with a sore left knee, Votto returned on Monday afternoon and did some damage to Pirates pitching.
In a 13-1 Reds victory in a makeup game for a rainout on Wednesday, Votto slugged a pair of two-run home runs -- including the longest by a Cincinnati player this season. Nick Castellanos also hit a homer for the fourth straight game -- a new career high -- and collected five RBIs.
“We haven’t been eliminated yet, so we’re still thinking about pulling off a miracle,” Votto said. “Until that gets taken away from us, we still have our eyes on competing in the playoffs.”
Winners of four in a row, it gave the Reds their 82nd win of the season, assuring them of a winning record for the second straight year -- the first time that’s happened since 2012-13.
“Today, I know this is not what most people want to hear, is consecutive winning seasons. Today clinched that, so I’m really happy about that,” Votto said.
But Cincinnati is still 5 1/2 games behind idle St. Louis for the second National League Wild Card spot. The Reds' elimination number is one, meaning either a loss or a Cardinals win over the remaining games would end any chance for the postseason.
Besides Votto and Castellanos, Eugenio Suárez and Jonathan India also cleared the fences during a 17-hit attack for the Reds. It made the job of pitching for Reiver Sanmartin much easier in his Major League debut.
Sanmartin allowed one run on five hits and one walk over 5 2/3 innings, and he received a standing ovation from fans at Great American Ball Park when he left with the bases loaded in the sixth inning.
“I was pretty emotional all day, really,” Sanmartin said via translator Jorge Merlos. “I just wanted to go out there and prove to everybody that I’m able to pitch at this level.”
The Reds sent nine men to the plate in the first inning against Pittsburgh starter Connor Overton and made it a 4-0 game. Following a Castellanos sacrifice fly that scored India, Votto hit a 3-1 pitch to left field for a two-run homer. Tucker Barnhart added the fourth run with a two-out RBI single to center.
In a four-run fourth inning against Cody Ponce, Castellanos again drove in India with a sacrifice fly before Votto crushed a 3-2 pitch to right field for another two-run homer high into the right-field sun deck.
“That was unbelievable,” India said. “It sounded like a gunshot. Once he hit it, it disappeared and I didn’t even see the ball. I heard it landed up by the scoreboard. Joey is an unbelievable hitter -- he has that strength, he can hit to both sides of the field for homers. It’s special to watch.”
Votto’s drive traveled a projected 466 feet -- good for the longest Reds home run since Aristides Aquino hit a 469-foot shot on Aug. 10, 2019, vs. the Cubs. It was also the longest homer for Votto since Statcast started tracking in 2015.
“What a great day,” Reds manager David Bell said. “That ball just -- he got extended on it and it kept going. It's been a great season. It's not over. We're continuing to compete, and he reminds us of that every day, too. That's going to allow for a strong finish.”
The pair of homers gave Votto 35 for the season, just two shy of his career high of 37 from his 2010 NL MVP Award-winning season. Imagine what the total might have been had he not missed a month in May due to a fractured left thumb. Overall, Votto is slashing .270/.380/.570 and his 96 RBIs are one behind Castellanos for the team lead.
Votto, 38, is the oldest NL player to reach 35 homers in a season since Barry Bonds, Moises Alou and Steve Finley all did it in 2004.
“I said in the past this was a skill set I had. If you had asked me in my prime if hitting .270 or .269 -- whatever I’m hitting -- if that is OK, I wouldn’t have been happy with that,” Votto said. “I wouldn’t have been satisfied. I would have lost a lot of sleep over that. Now, I’m taking more chances, and with that, comes more outs. Yeah, I was pretty confident I was going to hit quite a few homers this year.”