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Must C Clutch: Votto drives in the game-winner

CINCINNATI -- The sacrifice bunt is often derided by the new-school baseball crowd because it gives away an out and can take the bat out of the hand of the better hitters.

No one has ever accused Reds manager Dusty Baker of being new school. Baker believes in the sac bunt through thick and thin, for better or worse. Twice in two games this season during key situations, he has used it.

It backfired on Monday but worked to perfection in the ninth inning just ahead of Joey Votto's RBI single, his first hit of the season, in Wednesday's 5-4 walk-off win over the Angels.

"Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't," Baker said after the win.

In the bottom of the ninth, during a 4-4 tie, Angels lefty reliever Scott Downs plunked leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo with his first pitch. Chris Heisey was ordered to bunt and executed the sacrifice toward the mound to move Choo to second base and bring up Votto.

On Opening Day in the eighth inning, Brandon Phillips was hitting ahead of Votto when he laid down a sacrifice to put runners on second and third. Votto was intentionally walked, and the next two batters struck out to end the rally before Cincinnati lost in 13 innings.

This time, with Phillips on deck as the cleanup hitter, Votto was offered a first-pitch breaking ball and laced it to the right side under the glove of lunging first baseman Albert Pujols. Second baseman Howie Kendrick backed up in the short outfield but couldn't get a handle on the ball as Choo scored without a throw to the plate.

Both Votto and Baker knew there wasn't a right-hander warming in the bullpen. Neither was surprised that Downs came at the hitter.

"I tried to just be ready with whatever I was going to be presented with," Votto said. "I've been presumptuous before in my career, and I think it's burnt me. I've learned a lesson to just deal with what's in front of me and show respect to my competition."

"When I bunted Heisey, I thought it was a pretty good chance they would pitch to Joey," Baker said. "They might pitch around to get him out, and then they were going to walk Brandon to get to Jay Bruce. But they never got to Brandon."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia had no issue going for the Downs-Votto matchup.

"It's pick your poison," Scioscia said. "They've got a strong middle of the order, their guys hit both lefties and righties, and the ball just squeaked under Albert's glove. You always consider it, but if we would've gotten that out there and then maybe try to go after Bruce, we could've maybe seen our way out of that inning."

Aroldis Chapman issued a two-out walk in the top of the ninth but had a scoreless inning to get a victory that came despite the Reds blowing an early 4-0 lead.

Angels starter C.J. Wilson retired his first 10 in a row but had back-to-back one-out walks to Heisey and Votto in the fourth. There were consequences as Phillips launched a 1-1 pitch well into the left-field seats for a three-run homer in his return to the lineup's cleanup spot in place of the injured Ryan Ludwick.

It also snapped a brief 0-for-7 streak for Phillips to start the season, while the Reds had scored only one run over their first 16 innings.

"It felt good to swing the bat, get things going for the guys," Phillips said. "I knew we were struggling a little bit getting hits and driving in some runs. I'm glad I came through."

Todd Frazier's RBI single scored Bruce to make it 4-0, but the lead would not hold up.

Reds starter Mat Latos looked good most of the night but made two mistakes. Latos gave up a leadoff homer to center field by Kendrick in the fifth inning on a 91-mph fastball up and over the middle of the plate.

Los Angeles made the Reds less comfortable in the seventh with two outs when Alberto Callaspo lifted an elevated 0-1 fastball from Latos into the right-field seats for a two-run homer that made it a one-run game. It was Latos' 100th and final pitch.

"We were trying to get that one last out out of Latos, and he hit it out of the ballpark," Baker said. "He made a mistake and got the ball up. He was trying to sink it down."

In a no-decision, Latos finished with three runs and seven hits allowed over 6 2/3 innings. Latos walked one while striking out eight. The Angels evened the score in the eighth against Jonathan Broxton as Frazier's error at third base while being handcuffed by a Pujols grounder eventually led to a run scoring on Mark Trumbo's RBI groundout.

At that point, the Reds were faced with the prospect of extra innings for the second game in a row, and a potential 0-2 start to 2013. Baker's strategy and Votto coming through prevented either from happening.

"You certainly don't want to go too long without that first [win]," Baker said. "Once you get that first one, now you can relax a little bit and just play."

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