Joey Votto on extra-inning rule: ‘It feels weird'

Reds celebrate first walk-off victory of the season

In the 17th game of a 60-game season, the Cincinnati Reds learned how they would react during a walk-off victory celebration.

In normal, pandemic-free years, the Reds would form a mob around a player crossing home plate after hitting a game-winning home run or sprint toward the player who recorded the game-winning hit. Then they would dump a bucket of water or Powerade — sometimes mixed with sunflower seeds or chewing gum — on the clutch performer.

The concerns about COVID-19 put only a slight damper on the party in the infield Tuesday. Joey Votto launched a deep fly ball that hit the top of the fence in center field, allowing Nick Senzel to score from second as the Reds beat the Kansas City Royals 6-5 at Great American Ball Park.

Jesse Winker and Josh VanMeter were the first players to greet Senzel as he scored, and Winker had a bottle of water and a bottle of hand sanitizer in his hand. Senzel didn’t stop to disinfect. He sprinted through the plate, took a hard left turn and ran toward Votto. Senzel lifted Votto in the air as Winker sprayed Votto in the face with water.

Other players, some wearing masks, soon converged on Votto and Senzel. It was typical jubilant scene. There were still plenty of high fives. It was just slightly tamer than normal.

“It’s still fun,” said reliever Lucas Sims, who earned the victory by pitching a scoreless 10th. “You’re very aware. We were all pretty excited. And props to Winker for bringing out the hand sanitizer. We’re trying to stay safe. Who doesn’t love a walk-off celebration, though.”

Votto does. He said the Reds broke a lot of rules with the celebration, but they couldn’t help themselves.

“It was just instinct,” Votto said. “We were happy. That’s exactly how it should be. I don’t know how you socially distance a celebration like that. I suppose you could, and forgive me for speaking candidly, but it’s so innate. It was natural.”

Baseball’s new extra-inning rule, instituted to shorten games during a shortened season, made the celebration possible. Senzel started the 10th inning on second base because he was the player who made the last out of the ninth.

“I think with nobody out and the team’s best runner on second base, that’s a tough spot for the opposing team,” Votto said. “They set it up for that reason.”

Votto wasn’t 100 percent sure how the rule worked when asked about it after the game. Teams have the option of substituting for the runner at second. The Reds didn’t have to debate that this time.

The Royals had the same luxury in the top of the 10th inning. Hunter Dozier started the inning on second. Sims struck out the next two batters, walked a batter and then got an inning-ending groundout to strand Dozier at second.

Minor League Baseball used the extra-inning rule the last two seasons. Sims experienced it with the Triple-A Louisville Bats. This was the first time the Reds played an extra-inning game this season with the rule.

“You really just treat it like you’re coming into any sort of situation,” Sims said. “It’s really just staying in the moment, being aware that he’s out there and going out there and executing pitches.”

In the dugout, Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer and pitcher Trevor Bauer debated the strategies at play in extra innings. Farmer wondered why the Royals didn’t intentionally walk Nick Castellanos, the first batter of the 10th, because Senzel was the only runner who mattered and putting runners at first and second would improve the chances of a double play.

Castellanos did end up walking, but it wasn’t intentional.

“Why waste pitches?” Farmer said. “Just walk him.”

While the extra-inning rule is here to stay for the rest of the 2020 regular season, Votto hopes it doesn’t last much longer.

“It feels weird,” Votto said. “It’s fine for right now, but I can’t imagine they implement that through the playoffs.”

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