Joey Votto searched for the right words to describe this victory.
The Reds first baseman didn’t want to give the old cliche that it was a must-win because it wasn’t. He didn’t want to say it was important because it wasn’t — not in the big scheme of the 162-game season. He didn’t want to say it didn’t mean anything, on the other hand, because every win counts.
“I do know tonight was a nice win,” Votto said.
Votto’s first hit of the 2013 season glanced off the glove of Angels first baseman Albert Pujols and rolled into short right field, and Shin-Soo Choo scored from second with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday to give the Reds a 5-4 victory two days after they lost 3-1 on Opening Day.
“You certainly don’t want to go too long without that first one,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “Now we can relax and just play.”
Angels reliever Scott Downs hit Choo with a pitch to start the ninth. Chris Heisey laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Choo to second.
Up to the plate stepped Votto, who was intentionally walked with two runners on in the eighth inning Monday. Votto, who has drawn four walks in the first two games, didn’t expect to be intentionally walked in this situation.
“I tried to be ready for whatever I was going to be presented with,” he said. “I’ve been presumptuous before in my career, and I think it’s burnt me. I’ve learned to deal with what’s in front of me and show respect to my competition.”
The Reds started the game where they left off Monday — with a punchless offense packing as much heat as the frigid Ohio River. They didn’t put a runner on base in the first three innings, extending their streak of hitless innings to eight.
The Reds caught a break in the third when a drive to center by Mike Trout bounced into the seats. If it hadn’t been a ground-rule double, Chris Iannetta probably would have scored from first. One batter later, Mat Latos got out of the the jam by getting Erick Aybar to ground out to first, stranding the runners at second and third.
Cincinnati’s offense came to life in the fourth. Angels starter C.J. Wilson walked Heisey and Votto with one out, and then Brandon Phillips lined a pitch into the seats in left-center field.
Phillips thought he had a home run in the second inning, but came up just short. He knew he hit this one out.
“If the wind was blowing that back, then I’ve got to hit the weight room,” he said. “It felt good just to swing the bat and get things going for the guys. I know we were struggling a little bit.”
One batter after Phillips, Jay Bruce almost equaled him, but his shot hit the top of the wall. He ended up at third base after an error by left fielder Mark Trumbo. Todd Frazier then lined a sharp single to left, scoring Bruce. That was three consecutive hits for a team with three hits in the first 16 innings of the season.
Meanwhile, Latos was cruising in his first start at GABP since he gave up six runs in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series against the Giants. Latos threw a scoreless first four innings, lowering the team ERA through the first 17 innings of the season to 1.59.
The Angels got on the board in the fifth on a solo home run by Howie Kendrick. Solid defense by the Reds kept the Angels from adding to the lead. The Reds turned double plays in the fifth and sixth innings.
Latos rolled on until the seventh when he gave up a two-run home run run to Alberto Callaspo. At that point, J.J. Hoover replaced Latos, who had allowed three earned runs on seven hits with a walk and eight strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.
The Angels tied the game at 4-4 in the eighth. Jonathan Broxton gave up a single to Aybar to start the inning. Phillips almost came up with the hard-hit grounder, but it glanced off his glove. Pujols then reached on an error by Frazier, who couldn’t handle the hard-hit ball. After a groundout by Josh Hamilton, who is now 0-for-8 in the series, a groundout by Trumbo scored Aybar from third.
Aroldis Chapman got the victory for the Reds by pitching a scoreless ninth.