And it happened to be Votto's 40th birthday as well.
“I’m glad to be back playing, whether it’s my birthday or not. I’ve missed playing. I’ve missed being a part of the team, helping the team ideally move towards a playoff berth," Votto said before the game. "To have the opportunity to compete after this long means a lot to me. I’m excited about it.”
India's leadoff home run in the bottom of the third inning was the first run scored in the game, and Votto's own leadoff homer in the eighth provided the punctuation. A three-game losing streak ended during a 7-1 Reds victory over the Cardinals at Great American Ball Park.
“We’re at a must-win stage now," Votto said after the game. "Seventeen games remaining and several good teams in front of us. All of these games feel must win-ish, and we take them all seriously.”
A 15-22 record since Aug. 1 has put the Reds in this position. The team, which is also missing infielder Matt McLain (oblique strain), has sagged offensively in recent weeks.
India hadn't been in the lineup since July 28 because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and Votto went on the IL Aug. 24 because of discomfort in his surgically repaired left shoulder.
“It’s huge," said outfielder TJ Friedl, who hit a two-out solo homer in the seventh inning. "There’s really no words to describe what they mean to us and our team, just to have them back, see their names in the lineup and to know it’s just going to make our lineup better."
On a sinker from Miles Mikolas in the third inning, India launched the ball to center field for his 15th homer of the season.
India wasn't due to return until Tuesday but told the club he was ready to return Sunday after two games on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Louisville.
"Felt good today," India said. "Put a good swing on the ball. Was seeing the ball really well, working counts. Definitely felt good to be back out there with the guys and get a W."
“I have to come back and perform well. We all do. Jon did it right out of the gate, and I was overwhelmed with jealousy hoping it would have happened in my first at-bat also. I’m kidding, obviously," Votto said. "We’re deep, and everybody is wanting to be on the field and everybody is wanting to compete. Hopefully that will be our strength going through the end of the season into hopefully some postseason ball.”
Two batters after India went yard, Will Benson added his own solo homer to center field for a 2-0 Cincinnati lead. The Reds broke the game open with three runs in the sixth inning.
Votto hit his 14th homer of the season with his drive to right-center field in the eighth inning. He has four career homers on his birthday.
“It felt back to normal. It felt like our team was back together, at least closer anyway. Those two guys have a lot to do with it," Reds manager David Bell said. “It felt like we got our family back together today, and they both played well and got their first game out of the way. It’s exciting. We’re playing for something right now.”
Reds pitchers combined to work a one-hitter. In his return from the COVID IL, starter Hunter Greene pitched six innings and allowed one unearned run, one hit and four walks with nine strikeouts. Greene labored through his first four innings but settled and threw 22 pitches over his final two innings. He retired his last seven batters and his last nine of 10.
The Reds, who have a losing record at home this season, begin a six-game road trip vs. the Tigers and Mets on Tuesday. Cincinnati has a 38-32 record on the road this season.
"We’re definitely going to start pushing," India said. "It hasn’t been a great month for the Reds, past two months -- I guess. But we need to start getting it going now. We’ve got to give it all we’ve got. You’ve got to play with heart, got to play with passion. I’m going to give it all I've got, I know that."