McCoy: Hometown hero — Votto homer sends Reds past Blue Jays

When 38-year-old Toronto native Joey Votto stepped into the Rogers Center batter’s box Sunday afternoon, it was his 102nd plate appearance in 2022.

And he had not hit a home run. In fact, he had only three doubles, two coming in his previous two games.

That was rectified in a big way in the eighth inning with the Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays tied.

Votto pulled a Yimi Garcia pitch deep down the right-field line and the ball kissed off the upper deck facade for his elusive first home run.

It was the difference, the game-winning blow in a 3-2 Reds victory, enabling them to salvage a win after losing the first two games of the series.

For Votto, coming in his hometown, where the fans greeted him warmly, throughout the series, it was extra-special.

Votto, though, downplayed the extra exhilaration he felt by putting on the hero’s helmet in his hometown, in a park 10 minutes from where he grew up.

“It has meaning, but I have to start hitting,” Votto told Bally Sports Ohio’s Jim Day during an on- field post-game interview. “I could have done it on Mars and it would have felt satisfying. I have to perform well, I have to fit in with these guys. I have to do my job. I have to do it ASAP, and that was ASAP,” he added.

Votto said he wasn’t thinking about what he did in his hometown as he circled the bases in triumph.

“All I’m thinking is that I was in the middle of competition, our team is tied, I have to get a good pitch to hit,” he said. “I’m feeling better at the plate. I don’t want to get cheated. I want to make sure I’m competing and competing well. When you are in the middle of work, that’s the priority. I’m wearing a Reds uniform in a road city.”

And for the Reds, winning a game started by an opposing left hander and winning a one-run game was different.

Going in, the Reds were 1- 9 against left-handed starters and were 1-6 in one-run games. Toronto leads baseball in one-run victories with 11.

Nearly lost in the Reds victory was the performance of starter Graham Ashcraft, making his major league debut. He was an emergency starter when scheduled pitcher Connor Overton came down with a back stiffness.

Ashcraft, the Reds No. 6 draft pick in 2019, pitched 4 1/3 innings and held the high-octane Blue Jays to two runs, four hits, with two walks and three strikeouts.

The 6-foot-2, 240-pound right hander was 3-1 with a 1.65 earned run average at Louisville and began last season pitching for the High-A Dayton Dragons.

In the first inning, Toronto left hander Yusei Kikuchi did a remarkable imitation of Nuke LaLoosh in the movie ‘Bull Durham.’

He walked three of the first four Reds and most of his deliveries were in a different zip code.

He almost escaped when he had two outs with the bases loaded, but Aristides Aquino pulled a two-run double into the left field corner.

Aquino was recalled from Class AAA Louisville before the series and was 2 for 41 with 23 strikeouts when he was sent out.

After Aquino’s double, Kikuchi hit Tyler Naquin with a pitch to reload the bases, but Taylor Motter struck out, leaving the Reds on top, 2-0.

From there, Kikuchi transformed himself into Cy Young and retired 10 in a row. But his 37-pitch first inning caught up with him and he had to leave with one out in the fifth inning.

Toronto scored a run in the second on a double by Santiago Espinal, extending his hitting streak to 14 games, and a single by Matt Chapman. Ashcraft then struck out the side.

The Blue Jays tied it in the third without a hit. Ashcraft hit George Springer with a pitch. Springer took second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a fly ball and scored on Bo Bichette’s ground to short.

Toronto filled the bases without a hit in the fifth on third baseman Motter’s error, a walk and a fielder’s choice that didn’t get an out.

Tony Santillan was in for Ashcraft and produced two tie-preserving outs, the last on a 3-and-2 slider in the dirt that Matt Chapman swung and missed.

The Reds threatened in the seventh, but the inning ended when Tyler Stephenson was picked off first bases.

Pinch-hitter Colin Moran opened the inning with a walk from relief pitcher Trevor Richards. With two outs, Garcia replaced Richards and Stephenson singled up the middle, putting runners on second and first.

But Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen caught Stephenson wandering too far off first and wiped him out.

Young Alex Diaz arrived in the eighth for the Reds to face the dynamite portion of the Toronto lineup and went 1-2-3 against Springer (strikeout), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (pop foul and hitless in the series) and Bichette (ground ball).

After Votto’s home run in the eighth, Diaz went back to the mound for the bottom of the eighth and pitched another 1-2-3 inning, striking out the last two —Espinal and Chapman.

All that was required to finish it off was for relief pitcher Art Warren to keep Toronto off the bases and he did. Facing the bottom three of the Blue Jays order, he went 1-2-3 to make certain Votto’s home run was meaningful.

Amazingly, it was Cincinnati’s first win in Toronto since June 25, 2009, almost 13 years ago.

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