TORONTO –– Between pitches in a tie game in the top of the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto turned around and looked at the Reds’ bench.
“Joey turned around, looked at us and said, ‘Homer,'” Reds right fielder Tyler Naquin said after the game. “I said, ‘Ok.’ And then he hit it. ”
Votto crushed a 346-foot line drive that hit the banner of the second deck in the right field at the Rogers Center. Playing in what might be his last game in his hometown, Votto led the Reds to a 3-2 win over the Blue Jays.
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He has called his shot before, but Votto has never had a stretch like this in his 16-year career. Entering Sunday’s game, he was hitting .134 without a home run all season, and Votto was having the worst statistical season at the plate of any of the Reds’ starters.
On top of that, Votto got sick and missed two weeks. During the time he missed, Votto couldn’t get hitting out of his head. He stayed at the drawing board trying to fix his swing.
“I was striking out a lot earlier in the season, that’s not really my style,” Votto said. “I know there’s going to be a bit of a give-and-take when I start leaning into power, leaning into stretching the ball, hitting the ball harder. But it was uncharacteristic to have no power and a whole bunch of strikeouts. Now, I feel like I have more control over the ball, I feel like I can make contact at will. “
In his first two games back, Votto showed signs that he was figuring it out at the plate. He had doubles on Friday and Saturday. In his first two at-bats on Sunday, Votto took two of his best swings of the season.
During the third inning, Votto hit a fly out to right field that was 103.4 mph off the bat. From the bench, Reds manager David Bell thought Votto’s swing was right on. Since the ball wasn’t carrying at the Rogers Center on Sunday, Votto only got a 356-foot fly out.
During the sixth inning, Votto hit the ball even better on a 101.4 mph fly ball to center field. Blue Jays center fielder George Springer ran the ball down, and Votto was 0-for-2.
He didn’t get a hit, but this was more proof that Votto had found something at the plate.
“He starts carrying himself different when he knows he’s really close,” Bell said. “He felt really close all day. The two fly balls, maybe he just missed them. Maybe the first one he didn’t miss it, but it was just too high. Then the more you’re around him, you feel it going a certain direction. And then it happened. “
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What happened next was something that most of the longer-tenured Reds players have seen before.
Earlier in his career, Votto went up to Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer in the dugout. Votto told Farmer that if he didn’t hit a first-pitch fastball for a home run, then Farmer could have his paycheck. Farmer agreed to the deal.
Votto homered on a first pitch fastball, looked back at Farmer and smiled.
“I’ve never seen anyone call their shot more,” Farmer said. “You can feel it happening, and it happens.”
On Sunday, it was Naquin’s turn to witness Votto’s ability to predict his success at the plate.
“He told me he was going to hit it, and he hit it,” Naquin said. “It’s what Joey does. Votto’s always been one of the best there is and he’s still doing it. It’s good to see him getting comfortable. We need that big guy. He’s a big bat in the lineup. “
Bell wasn’t surprised either. He thought Votto was on the verge of a breakthrough before he got sick. Once Votto got two extra-base hits under his belt on Friday and Saturday, as well as the two well-hit fly balls on Sunday, the home run was a clear next step.
“We all sensed from Joey’s body language that something good was going to happen,” Bell said. “When you’re around him more and more you can feel it. He’ll even peek over every now and then. You really get the sense that you need to watch close right here because he is locked in. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s amazing that it’s more often than not. As soon as it happened, it was like greatness. “
After Votto made contact, he pointed right away to the Reds’ dugout and said something. When the ball stayed fair, he turned toward the Reds’ dugout and said something else to his teammates.
His reaction after crossing home plate matched the moment. Votto borrowed a celebration from Reds outfielder Aristides Aquino, waving his hands and sticking out his tongue.
Bell called the moment a sign of Votto’s greatness. Farmer said it shows how there’s an “aura” around Votto. Naquin said, “He’s got like 340 of them. He’s bound to hit one if he calls it. “
Votto wasn’t completely satisfied with the home run, which landed near the right field foul pole. Even after the most important, most impressive and most meaningful swing of his season, Votto was looking at the next way his swing could get even better.
“Hitting the ball that close to the line is not really my style, but it ended up being a good result,” Votto said. “Eventually, breaking balls, off-speed pitches need to be hit closer to the right fielder. Then, the fastballs need to be closer to center field. But I think that’s coming. “