Votto at heart of Reds' historic 5-HR barrage

First baseman preaches 'urgency is real' as Cincy battles in NL Central

June 12th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- Of all the Reds who homered Friday night vs. the Rockies, Joey Votto appeared to enjoy his the most. In the third inning of Cincinnati's 11-5 victory at Great American Ball Park, Votto's long ball was potentially the backbreaker for Colorado.

It was already a 4-0 game when the batter ahead of Votto, Tyler Stephenson, hit a possible double-play grounder to third base that went through the legs of Ryan McMahon for an error. Two pitches later, Votto slugged Kyle Freeland's 0-1 pitch to left-center field for a three-run homer.

"In that instance, my celebration was genuine joy," Votto said. "I was happy to be a part of the team’s success, happy to succeed individually. It was just joy, a relief."

Votto watched the ball head into the seats, and after rounding the bases to make it a 7-0 lead, ripped his helmet off and triumphantly yelled towards the crowd, gave emphatic high-fives to teammates and let out a "Wooo!" as he entered the dugout.

"I just want to do well," Votto said. "Earlier in the season, Jonathan India hit a home run -- I think it was his first Major League home run -- and while we were playing first and second a few days ago, I told him I admired his show of passion early in the year and I felt like it was something I wanted to add to my game and something I feel like I’m missing.

"There are moments now -- it’s not quite as easy as it used to be when I was a younger player, so doing well feels that much more special. That was one of those moments. I haven’t had a lot of success against left-handed pitching so far this year, and I want to play every day and we’re trying to win. I have to produce against whoever is on the mound, and I did on that occasion and it made me feel really good."

Votto, now the Reds’ 37-year-old first baseman, returned Tuesday after missing a month with a fractured left thumb, and has homers in back-to-back games and seven overall on the season.

"I would think it’s enjoyable as a fan to watch that, to watch him compete and come through and also enjoy it," Reds manager David Bell said. "I know, in the position I’m in, that’s the best part -- seeing our team enjoy what we’re doing. It’s hard and there’s a lot of challenges. I get to see guys firsthand work and work and work and compete. There’s failure involved, so when guys have success -- even Joey, who has had a lot of it -- I think it’s great that it can be shown and enjoyed. I think they all enjoyed it together.”

By the fifth inning, all eight of Cincinnati's position players had at least one hit. Freeland allowed a 2021 MLB-high five homers overall as the Reds became the eighth team in Major League history to homer at least once in each of the first five innings of a game.

The Reds are also the third team ever to have a different player hit a homer in each of the first five innings.

• After Jesse Winker hit a one-out single in the bottom of the first inning, Nick Castellanos launched a two-run homer to right-center field.

• Eugenio Suárez opened the bottom of the second with a double. Scott Heineman was next with a two-run homer to left field.

• Following Votto's homer in the third inning, Kyle Farmer led off the bottom of the fourth with a homer to left-center field.

• Freeland's final batter, Stephenson, led off the Reds' fifth with a homer to center field to stretch the lead to 9-0.

The offensive boost made the night easier for Reds starting pitcher Tyler Mahle, who won his fourth consecutive start while pitching six innings with four earned runs, five hits, one walk and six strikeouts on his ledger.

"It’s awesome. I mean, when your team is hitting like that, you can just go out and try to get outs, not try to do too much," Mahle said. "They put on a clinic. It was crazy. Props to them for giving me an easy day."

Mahle had given up just one hit over his first five scoreless innings before Colorado got to him for a four-run rally in the sixth, including a three-run homer from McMahon. But the Reds responded with two runs in the bottom of the sixth to put the game away. They started lifting players for early rest -- including Votto and Castellanos. 

Cincinnati has won eight of its last 11 games, but at 30-31, remains five games out of first place in the National League Central. Votto believed sustaining momentum now was extremely critical. 

"It’s going to be a tough division all year long, as it should be. But we have to go now," Votto said. "We’re already a number of games back; it may not be an easy Wild Card to obtain this year. We have to keep our eye on playing. Of course we want to concentrate on our own team and our own games, but you have to meet your competition where they are and we have to catch up. Urgency is real, we have to hurry up, and that’s an odd thing to say with 100 games remaining, but urgency without panic."