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Votto's 'piece de resistance' highlights 2017

NL MVP runner-up's season among year's top moments
MLB.com @m_sheldon

CINCINNATI -- The Reds endured another 94-loss season in 2017, but Joey Votto had a year to remember when he re-established himself as the Majors' best hitter. And then there were plays that amazed -- whether it was the Reds turning a triple play, Votto beating a four-outfielder shift, Billy Hamilton scoring a winning run after a replay challenge overturned the final out or a four-homer game from Scooter Gennett.

There was also the funny, such as when manager Bryan Price argued with umpires right up until God Bless America started for the seventh-inning stretch in New York. And no one will forget the summer when donkey fever gripped the ballpark.

CINCINNATI -- The Reds endured another 94-loss season in 2017, but Joey Votto had a year to remember when he re-established himself as the Majors' best hitter. And then there were plays that amazed -- whether it was the Reds turning a triple play, Votto beating a four-outfielder shift, Billy Hamilton scoring a winning run after a replay challenge overturned the final out or a four-homer game from Scooter Gennett.

There was also the funny, such as when manager Bryan Price argued with umpires right up until God Bless America started for the seventh-inning stretch in New York. And no one will forget the summer when donkey fever gripped the ballpark.

There were plenty of rough times, too, as the starting pitching underperformed, the bullpen wore down and catcher Devin Mesoraco was felled by injury once again.

Cincinnati will hope for better times in 2018. But for now, here are five of the more Reds notable storylines from the '17 season:

5. Zack Cozart breaks out, scores a donkey

Cozart reached the big leagues with the Reds in 2011, but he really stepped out of the shadows last season with a breakout offensive year that included his election to his first All-Star Game. Along the way, Cincinnati -- and the nation -- became fixated on Cozart's quest to earn a pet donkey.

Donkeys are Cozart's favorite animal and early in the year, Votto told the shortstop he would buy him one if he made the National League All-Star team. Once word got out, it became a sensation as fans and teammates rallied to get Cozart deserved consideration for the first half he was having. Votto even dressed in a donkey costume on MLB Network behind Cozart during a live broadcast to help his cause. The efforts succeeded, and Votto gave the Cozart family its pet in the second half.

Video: MIA@CIN: Votto gives Cozart a donkey for making ASG

4. Injuries decimate rotation, but some rookies emerge

Homer Bailey needing his third elbow surgery since 2014 just before Spring Training proved to be a bad omen for the rotation. Bailey eventually returned, but Anthony DeSclafani missed the whole season and Brandon Finnegan made just four starts. The Reds needed an NL-most 16 starting pitchers to get through the season and posted a 5.55 ERA. Several young pitchers were needed before they were fully ready.

But some rookies rose to the occasion, namely Luis Castillo after he went from Double-A to the big leagues. Despite a 3-7 record, Castillo posted a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts. Sal Romano and Robert Stephenson overcame rough times and finished the season strong to position themselves well for 2018. Tyler Mahle came up late and also impressed.

Video: MIL@CIN: Watch all of Castillo's 10 K's in 10 seconds

3. Defense did the job

One byproduct of pitchers getting knocked around was it meant more balls put into play. Cincinnati's defense had its pitchers' backs most of the time and could often limit the damage with great plays. The Reds tied for the Major League lead with 40 outfield assists, with Adam Duvall pacing all outfielders with 15 and Hamilton tying for second with 13.

There were plenty of great catches at the wall -- several by Hamilton -- and on July 25, the Reds turned a triple play against the Yankees. Four Reds players were NL Gold Glove finalists -- Duvall, Hamilton, Votto and Tucker Barnhart, who beat out Yadier Molina and Buster Posey to take the honor.

Video: Must C Catch: Hamilton scales wall for amazing grab

2. What a waiver claim

The Reds claimed Gennett off of waivers from the Brewers just before Spring Training ended and planned on using him as a utility player. But Gennett exceeded all expectations and was the regular second baseman by the end of July, finishing with a .295/.342/.531 slash line, 27 homers and 97 RBIs. That included four grand slams.

Gennett's finest moment came on June 6 against the Cardinals, when he became the first Reds player to hit four home runs in a game. He joined Lou Gehrig as the only two players in history with a four-homer game and four grand slams in any season.

Video: Must C Classic: Gennett's monster four-HR, 10-RBI day

1. Votto's almost MVP season

Votto may have been the 2010 NL Most Valuable Player Award winner, but '17 was arguably the best season of his 11-year career. While starting all 162 games, the 34-year-old batted .320/.454/.578 with 36 home runs, 100 RBIs, 106 runs and reached base a Major League-leading 321 times. Votto didn't reach safely in just 12 games all season.

"I wanted this to be my piece de resistance. I wanted this to be my work of art," Votto said at the end of the season.

When NL MVP Award voting results from the BBWAA were revealed in November, Votto just missed winning the honors a second time. He finished second, as Giancarlo Stanton bested him by two points in the closest result since 1979 and the fourth closest all-time.

Video: Must C Curious: Votto beats four-man outfield shift

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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