CINCINNATI — The tendency, it seemed, was for the Cincinnati Reds to take the posture: “Let Joey do it.”
Joey Votto is their premier player, the National League MVP in 2010, the guy who was leading the way this season, too.
Then, on June 24, with the Reds leading the National League Central by one game, Votto slid awkwardly into third base and tore the meniscus in his left knee.
The forecast for the Reds without Votto? As Clubber Lang in Rocky III said: “Pain.”
But the Reds astounded the baseball community by going 32-16 without Votto and extending their lead to as many as 9 1/2 games.
Couldn’t it only get better when Votto returned? Well, one would think so.
Votto returned Wednesday afternoon against the Philadelphia Phillies and Roy Halladay, “And thank you baseball gods for that,” Votto said facetiously.
And he did quite well, two hits and a walk off Halladay, but the rest of the Reds (except Jay Bruce) took a holiday and the Phillies won, 6-2.
Bruce has been the big rig during Votto’s absence, particularly of late. He homered against Halladay Wednesday, his fourth homer in four games. And he drove his team’s other run in the ninth with a single.
The Reds’ offense has been dormant lately, other than Bruce, who has driven in nine of the team’s last 11 runs, a period during which the team has scored 2, 2, 2 and 1 runs in four of its last five games.
“Joey was fine, said he felt great, and I was thinking about taking him out in the seventh inning,” said manager Dusty Baker.
“Yeah, I stayed in and my knee held up pretty well until (Antonio) Bastardo buckled it on my last at bat,” he added, referring to a 3-and-2 curveball that Votto ducked away from, only to watch the baseball curl over home plate for strike three.
Votto surprised Baker by sliding into second base trying to break up a double play and he said, “He even slid and I didn’t anticipate that. But he’s a ballplayer and plays the game the way it is supposed to be played.”
Of Bruce doing all the heavy lifting, Baker said, “We have to hope he keeps it where it is and the rest of the guys pick it up. Our offense will pick it up big-time. It goes in cycles. There was a period of 21 games where we were getting production out of everybody but Jay. Now we’re getting it out of Jay and very little out of anybody else.”
In the long run, Votto’s return has to aid and abet the team’s race toward the NL Central championship. Despite his lighthearted approach, Votto knows it, too.
“The first game back for me went better than expected and I was happy to be back in the lineup,” he said. “Unfortunately it came with a loss.
“I had no problems at all and I feel fine,” he said. “I was a little apprehensive about the slide and I did go in gingerly, but that’s just because I’ve had some slides that have given me trouble and I have to get over that hurdle.”
Of his swing, Votto said he is working his way back into it slowly and is shrinking it to try to do less than he normally does, “And eventually I’ll be able to stretch it out.
“I had seven weeks or 48 games that I sat out and I had all that energy and fire inside me that I had to sit on and I wanted to get it out there,” Votto said. “I never had a problem giving away at-bats before I got hurt. Now it has hit home that you never know what might happen next so that’s reason enough not to take anything for granted and go after it after at-bat.”