CINCINNATI -- Joey Votto said upon his return from a 72-game stay on the injured list that he was just trying to earn some playing time.
Based on one game, Votto's job seems safe.
He homered in the fifth inning and hit a go-ahead two-run single in the sixth to lift the Reds to their ninth straight win -- 5-4 over the Colorado Rockies before a crowd of 20,344 at Great American Ball Park on Monday night.
The single came with the crowd chanting "Joey, Joey, Joey!'
With the victory and the Brewers' loss to the D-backs, the Reds (38-35) moved into first place in the National League Central. It's the Reds' longest winning streak since they won 10 in a row from July 19-29, 2012.
"It was surprising," Votto said about hearing the ovations he received from the fans. "Not that I would ever underestimate them, but you don't expect that. I feel the same way towards them. For them to reciprocate means a great deal to me. It was a memorable experience. It was more than I expected."'
Said right fielder Nick Senzel: "To have [Votto] back, that's special. That's a Hall of Famer right there."
Votto, who had surgery to repair his left rotator cuff and his biceps last August, was just happy to contribute.
"It was a long, daunting rehab," he said. "You have your doubts. ... I mean weeks or months ago doubts. We're in a perform-based game. ... You have to perform. I expect to perform. It's intimating when you have a surgery like that, and you're an older player.
"Tonight was a good night for me."
A very good night, indeed.
"It was surreal," Kevin Newman said. "To come back and affect the game like he did, I'm not going to forget tonight."
Votto has spent his career as the star of the Reds. As their best hitter, Votto is usually hitting second or third in the lineup. But Monday night, Votto returned to the lineup batting sixth.
And he seemed perfectly OK with it.
"I was just called up," he said prior to the game. "I'm here to compete for a job. That's my mentality. That's my attitude. Everything in this game is earned. I've been hungry since the day I entered this league. Nothing has changed.
"Now, sometimes, you can sense you might need to guard your bowl. I'm down for the challenge for sure. But it's always been that way."
With the win, the Reds have now gone from being in fourth place and six games back of first place to having sole position of first place in just 15 days. Before the game, Votto expressed how proud he was of the team, especially during this recent stretch.
"I'm a Cincinnati Red," he said. "I was watching a team that is chasing [an NL Central title]. This is what our goal is. One step at a time, of course. This is what we play for. As a Red, I see them tearing up the games. I'm excited for my guys. These are good dudes. They're so easy to cheer for.
"I'm happy. These past two months have been great."
Votto, at 39, is the veteran on a young team. He'll just try to be one of the guys and earn his playing time.
"He's so excited to be part of our team," Reds manager David Bell said. "He's been watching. He's done everything to stay connected to our team and come back and contribute. He meant a lot to our team. He's been a part of this the whole time."
Votto has always been laid back as far as leadership. He is not usually a vocal guy. But his work ethic sets an example.
"I think about performing each day," he said. "That uncertainty. That's probably the most exciting part. That's something that stands out for me as far as being in this position. You'd have to ask my former teammates and my current teammates how they perceive me.
"I'm not at all comfortable speaking about leadership or mentorship. I haven't heard that tone before. That's not something you take. It's something that's given to you. I'm one of the guys. I've been since I entered the league. I've always been one of the guys. That's something I pride myself in."
Votto was hitting from the beginning of Spring Training, so he was a bit surprised it took so long to get back.
"I suppose," he said. "To get up to Major League game speed after this [was difficult]. It's a crummy injury. Almost all the 500-homer guys -- I'm not a 500-homer guy -- but almost all the guys, their back arm [in their batting stance] is their dominant arm. If your back arm is not strong -- David Ortiz, the great Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr. -- that's their back arm, the power arm."
Votto said he's close to 100 percent healthy.
"I feel good," he said prior to the game. "Most of the issue was my hand. The biceps was the issue. It was causing the problem in my elbow and hand. I wasn't able to grip the bat. I wasn't able to practice. Now, I don't think about practice. I'm back to the smash mode. I go in the cage, and I try to smash the ball. I'm trying to work towards something specific hitting-wise. I'm there or almost there."
Again, Votto will try to fit in with the young, aggressive team.
"Baserunning," he said. "I try my hardest to run every single ball out, to get my conditioning up, run every fly ball out, run every ground ball out, try to steal bases [and] just to fit in. First to third. Passed balls. Beat out a double play. All these things are part of this culture. I want to wear a Reds uniform until the end of my career.
"The culture is that."