Jul 30, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) follows through on a solo home run against the New York Mets during the sixth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve ever heard a baseball player interviewed, you might think the key to a home-run streak like the one Reds slugger Joey Votto is on would be not trying to hit home runs. Not long ago at the All-Star Game, Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. repeated this very axiom about his own career. Well, Votto is going to let you in on a little personal secret.

“Oh, I’m trying to homer,” Votto said Friday after hitting a dinger at Wrigley Field. He probably wasn’t joking.

His contrarian tactic is still working. Votto continued his later-career renaissance Friday night, banging out another record-setting home run, giving him at least one in his past seven games. If he hits another home run Saturday night, he will tie the major league record first set by Dale Long of the Pirates in 1956. Don Mattingly of the Yankees, in 1987, and Ken Griffey Jr. of the Mariners, in 1993, also homered in eight straight games. Only eight players total in AL/NL history own a home run streak lasting at least seven games. The most recent was Kendrys Morales of the Blue Jays in 2018.

Votto’s 21st home run of the season extended the Reds lead in the sixth inning of a 6-2 victory against the Mets at Citi Field in the opener of a three-game series. It left the bat at 102.2 mph and landed an estimated 423 feet away, per Statcast. Votto finished 1-for-4 with a walk, helping the Reds win their fourth in a row and for the sixth time in eight games.

Votto has nine home runs in his past seven games since June 24, including a streak of eight straight hits that went for homers. Those are personal bests and Reds records. Votto, who turns 38 on Sept. 10, also equaled Barry Bonds as the only other player age 37 or older to go deep in seven straight games. Bonds was 39 when he did it in 2004, the season he surpassed 700 career homers. Votto has 316. For the moment.

“It’s cool. He was a fantastic player late in his career,” Votto said. “I’m nowhere near the player he was late in his career, of course. But this has been a really good stretch.”

Despite hitting the ball hard from the season opener onward, Votto had little to show for it when he went on the injured list in early May. But in the 45 games since he returned June 8, he’s got a slugging percentage near .650 with 16 homers. In his past 30 games, he’s slugging .769. Votto’s surge at the plate, which also came after two below-par seasons for him, raised his slash line this season to .278/.374/.563 in 312 plate appearances, closer to his typical performance over 15 seasons in the majors. His isolated power of .285 is the best of his career by nine points over his mark in 2011.

“I think of it more, like, ‘It’s about time,’” said Votto, who batted .252/.356/.421 with a total of 26 home runs the past two seasons in 831 plate appearances, per Baseball Reference.

His results in 2019 and 2020 weren’t up to Votto’s standards, but considering they were his age 35 and 36 seasons, it was not a leap to assume his career was simply winding down. Well, he’s wound up now, as Votto nears 38.

“I expect to play like this,” Votto said. “It’s a pretty specific feeling when you’re doing well. There’s a flow. You are in a flow state, of course. Usually I’m in a flow state when I’m doing well over a long stretch of time, but this is not outside of my expectations.”

Votto gave an answer as to why he’s hitting home runs like this — because it’s what he’s trying to do. That plays out in some of Votto’s stats. He’s hitting the ball harder than he ever has, but it’s a rare season where Votto doesn’t hit the ball hard. He’s also being more efficient about it, barreling the ball 16% of the time, his best season since Statcast started tracking it, which puts him in the 94th percentile in MLB. His HR/FB rate is an outsized 29%, about 11% higher than his career average. Votto used to be a neutral platoon split, but since 2018 he’s struggled against lefties. The thing is, right-handed pitching is helpless against him.

Votto’s home-run improvement doesn’t obviously correlate to a big change in launch angle; at 14.1 degrees, it’s actually lower than it has been in three of the past four seasons. It’s possible that a more subtle adjustment in his swing is at work. Or maybe it’s just added wisdom, having swung a bat in the majors for so long. Regardless, his physical conditioning, along with strong health in all phases, probably is helping him do this, even as Votto trots toward his career twilight.

Votto gave a qualified “yes” — or maybe it was a qualified “no” — when asked if this was the best stretch of his career. He referred to the “flow state” again.

“Maybe the homers, but I’ve gone on good stretches before — getting on base a lot, lots of hits, lots of extra-base hits,” Votto said. “I’ve been here many times in my career, but I’ve never done it with the home run. It’s a little bit of a new experience. I mean, this is going to end at some point. But there’s no reason I can’t continue to be in that state in other ways.”

He’s always contributed other things at the plate to help the Reds win. Hitting home runs is not all he does, but it’s fun to know that Joey Votto still bangs.

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