By Hal McCoy
Wow is only a three-letter word but it says it all concerning the young Cincinnati Reds and an old guy named Joey Vortto. They are exactly what Roy Orbison was saying when he sang, “Anything you want, you got it.”
And what the Reds got Monday night against the Colorado Rockies was a triumphant return by Votto, 10 months after serious shoulder surgery.
In his first game since last August 12, the 39-year-old first baseman made a movie-like return as the centerpiece of the Reds ninth straight victory, 5-4, plopping them into first place in the National League Central.
The Reds (38-35) are a half-game in front of Milwaukee (37-35) after the Brewers were blasted by Arizona Monday, 8-1.
Simply stated, Votto homered, singled, walked and drove in three runs. But there was nothing simple about his MacArthur-like return to Great American Ball Park.
Batting sixth in the order, as he approached home plate for his first at bat, he received a loud standing ovation reception and he doffed his batting helmet. Then he lined out hard to center field.
When he came to bat in the fifth he spun on the first pitch and launched a no-doubter 381-foot home run deep into the right field moon deck. He was anointed by Jake Fraley with the Viking helmet and Votto made a curtain call, doffing the helmet to the crowd.
That gave the Reds a 3-1 lead, but the Rockies scored three in the sixth to take a 4-3 lead.
As Votto came to bat in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded and one out, the crowd was chanting, “Joey, Joey, Joey.” On the second pitch, he ripped a line drive single to left center that scored two runs and pushed the Reds back in front, 5-4, the runs that ensured the Reds their 16th one-run win against 13 losses.
Votto was emotional and near tears during a post-game interview on the field with Bally Sports Ohio.
“You, uh, know, I have to say thank you to the fans of Cincinnati who gave me so much support today,” he said. “This is your team and I know that all you want is for us to play well, for us to earn that championship you deserve.
“For you (fans) to support me with such a hot team and for me rejoining the team, uh, and for you to support me it means a great deal to me and I’m so glad to be back.”
There were those who wondered if Votto’s return might disrupt the chemistry and winning ways of this young team. Votto answered that with a fantastic flourish.
And about putting on that Viking helmet after his dramatic home run, Votto said, “A long time coming (10 months). Ever since I watched them put it on each other I was thinking how badly I wanted that on me, because it is tied to a winning moment.
“That’s exactly, exactly what this team is about,” he added. “This is a different energy that I’ve experienced in years, maybe in my entire career. They play so hard and I want to be part of this. It feels so good and it is exactly what we deserve here in Cincinnati.
“These guys are playing so well and I have to keep up with them,” he said. On this night, he was a couple of peppy steps ahead of them.
The first three runs and the only hits by the Reds for 4 2/3 innings were three solo home runs off Colorado starter Austin Gomber.
Kevin Newman led the bottom of the first with a 390-foot shot into the front row of the upper deck. Nick Senzel connected with two outs in the second and Votto’s came leading off the fifth.
Reds starter Brandon Williamson gave up a 428-foot home run to Elias Diaz in the fourth and it stayed 3-1 until the sixth.
Williamson gave up back-to-back singles to Randal Grichuk and Ryan McMahon and Williamson was replaced by usually reliable Buck Farmer.
On this night he was not reliable, until it really mattered. He gave up a run-scoring single to Diaz and a run-scoring double to Jorge Alfaro to tie it, 3-3. He walked Nolan Jones to fill the bases with no outs.
He righted himself by striking out Brent Doyle and Coco Montes. When Colorado manager Bud Black sent up lefthander and former Reds infield Mike Moustakas, Reds manager David Bell brought in Alex Young.
And he walked Moustakas on a full count to force in the go-ahead run.
Moustakas stayed in to play third and had a bad hand in helping during the Reds three-run winning rally in the bottom of the sixth.
Jonathan India hit one hard toward third and Moustakas muffed it for an error. Elly De La Cruz then chopped one at Moustakas and his throw to first was too late as the fleet De La Cruz beat it for an infield hit. Spencer Steer walked to fill the bases and put all the pieces in place for Votto’s game-winning single.
There was added drama in the ninth when Reds closer Alexis Diaz, trying to protect the one-run lead, gave up back-to-back singles to Moustakas and Jurickson Profar.
That put two on with no outs and the tying run at third base. As he has done time and time again, when it was tough going, Diaz got tougher.
He struck out Randal Grichuk and struck out Ryan McMahon, then ended it on a ground ball from his namesake, Diaz. It was his 19th straight save this season and 24th straight dating back to last season.