CINCINNATI -- Joey Votto understood why manager David Bell benched him last week. The 36-year-old slugger, who has been the Reds’ first baseman since 2007, certainly didn’t like sitting, but since the time off, he has responded well at what is the most critical stretch of this shortened season.
Votto delivered in the bottom of the ninth inning with an RBI single that scored Shogo Akiyama to give the Reds a 4-3 walk-off victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park. Now 16-21 and two games behind Colorado for the eighth and final National League playoff spot, Cincinnati had lost the previous three games and four of the past five.
“Of course, playing against the teams above us, they’re must-wins,” Votto said. “The time is, for sure, running out.”
With a six-game hitting streak since his three-game benching, Votto is 9-for-20 (.450) with three home runs and has raised his average from .191 to .239. Before he sat, he was mired in an 0-for-18 skid and struck out four times at Milwaukee on Aug. 25.
“When you go through rough stretches, you have doubts and you try to figure out solutions,” Votto said. “I’m still trying to continue to make adjustments, make the game as easy as possible, repeatable as possible, but I was frustrated. There was no doubt. Playing well, it does give you confidence.”
Wednesday's game was tied, 3-3, when back-to-back one-out walks drawn by Akiyama and Curt Casali against Giovanny Gallegos set up the winning moment for Votto.
“Joey is another guy that has been up in that situation more than anyone, has come through so many times in his career,” Bell said. “There is pressure to that. I know he wants to come through. Part of having success in a spot like that is being able to slow it down and settle in. He’s in a really good place as far as his approach to the plate. There’s no one that you would want up there more than Joey in that situation.”
Down 0-2, Votto was not deterred by the pitcher’s count.
“You know, I felt good,” he said. “Honestly, I just wanted to be instinctive. I wanted to obviously compete. I wanted to get a good swing off. I wasn’t doing much thinking up there. I think in the beginning of the season, you complicate some things and try to control the situation. Sometimes, I think you have to let go, and I did that.”
Votto laced Gallegos’ pitch into right-center field to score Akiyama from second to salvage one game out of the three-game series. The bench spilled out on to the field by first base to mob Votto, with closer Raisel Iglesias being one of the first players to greet him. Iglesias pitched 1 1/3 innings and maneuvered through a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the ninth inning for the win.
“Ever since I've signed with the Reds, I've always had 100 percent confidence in Joey Votto even through this difficult stretch that we've all had, he's had a difficult stretch as well,” Iglesias said via translator Jorge Merlos. “There was no doubt in my mind in that ninth inning.”
Votto took Bell’s decision to sit him as a challenge and a learning experience. While he was slumping, Votto adjusted his batting stance and moved to become more upright in the batters’ box. It has started to pay dividends.
“Maybe you get put in a position where you feel like your career is threatened, or the opportunity to be a part of a winning team is threatened, the opportunity to do something you’ve done since you were a little boy is threatened, perhaps,” Votto said on Sunday. “Not playing was an awfully humbling experience, for sure.”
The only player remaining from a club that went to the playoffs three out of four seasons from 2010-13, Votto has endured six consecutive losing seasons and his own subpar performances the past two-plus years. He badly wants to change both trajectories.
“We’re going put our foot down. We’re going to go all the way in -- push this to the very last out of the season,” Votto said. “We’re a competitive team. We’re going to be that all the way to the end. I’m looking forward to the next stretch.”