“We had a taste of it last year (the playoffs) in a fanless season and we’d like to do it in front of the fans,” he added. “We have a strong club and we don’t want to leave the season empty handed.”
Since the All-Star break the Reds have averaged just over seven runs per game, but on this hot and muggy afternoon, the offense was not in its usual overdrive mode.
That left it up to starting pitcher Tyler Mahle to keep the Pirates to their usual average of just over two runs a game.
And he did it.
Mahle pitched seven innings and held the Pirates to two runs, six hits, walked none and struck out 10. It earned him his ninth win against three losses.
“He has been steady all year,” said Votto. “I’ve watched him since his debut, and I sensed that he had really good potential. And it looks he is starting to reach that potential. He is becoming the best version of himself.”
Manager David Bell pinned the most important player of the game on Mahle.
“Tyler Mahle was, in some ways, the player of the game,” said Bell. “I’ve been around him three years and he just keeps getting better and better. He has evolved as a pitcher, worked hard on his secondary pitches to go with an elite fastball.”
The Pirates struck first in the fourth inning when Bryan Reynolds doubled and scored on an infield hit that glanced off third baseman Eugenio Suarez’s glove.
The Reds responded with three runs in the bottom of the fourth against right-hander Bryse Wilson.
It began with a bloop double behind third base by Jesse Winker. Nick Castellanos doubled off left fielder Anthony Alford’s glove in left, sending Winker to third.
Votto singled to right for a run, Tyler Stephenson grounded into a fielder’s choice for a run and Kyle Farmer doubled for a run and a 3-1 Reds lead.
That was the only inning in which the Reds scored, but it was the heavy-loaded top of the order coming through.
“There are moments on the bench when we chat with one another and start feeling ourselves like, ‘Oh, my goodness. Look at this lineup, how it’s coming together,” Votto said. “It’s becoming a long, long dangerous lineup.”
Votto’s run-scoring single in the third was a sizzling line drive off the wall and Votto heard about it in the dugout, how it could have been a double.
Shogo Akiyama, a second-year player, was not afraid to call out the face of the franchise.
“He said, ‘Ya gotta run out of the box,’” Votto said. “I said, ‘You are absolutely right.’ I thought that ball I hit off the wall was hit well, but I didn’t gun it out of the box. I missed an opportunity to try for a double. His message was clear, and he was absolutely right.”
The Pirates drew within a run, 3-2, in the sixth on a leadoff home run to center field by rookie third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes.
Michael Lorenzen and Mychal Givens cleaned it up perfectly with Lorenzen pitching a 1-2-3 eighth and Givens annexing a save with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The degree of difficulty swings upward now. First the Reds stop in Cleveland for a make-up game Monday, then visit Atlanta and Philadelphia, team with the same playoff aspirations and opportunities as the Reds.
Reds at Indians, 6:10 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410