Votto punishes Perez, helps Reds avoid sweep

CINCINNATI -- No longer a rookie, Joey Votto is learning what it's like to carry a team.

Votto had a three-run homer and a run-scoring single off Oliver Perez, who rarely has such a tough time against left-handed hitters, and the Cincinnati Reds beat the New York Mets 8-6 Thursday to salvage the finale of their opening series.

The first baseman who led NL rookies with a .297 average and 24 homers last season led them to a needed win. Given Cincinnati's streak of eight straight losing seasons, an 0-3 start would have been particularly discouraging.

"This year, I wanted to play well, not just because I know I'm an important part of the team, but because I want to help the team win," Votto said.

Bronson Arroyo (1-0) pitched as if he's recovering from his latest bout of carpal tunnel syndrome, giving up five runs in six innings. Francisco Cordero struck out the side in the ninth, converting Cincinnati's first save opportunity of the season.

After dropping the first two games, the Reds pulled one out behind a Canadian who was their best hitter in opening series' cold weather. Votto went 7-for-13 in the series with a pair of three-run homers and seven RBIs. He was the catalyst for an offense that scored 15 runs the last two games.

"It doesn't matter where they're coming from," manager Dusty Baker said. "Most of them are coming from Votto. He's hot."

Votto connected in the third inning off Perez (0-1), who in his first start after signing a $36 million, three-year contract gave up his highest run total in nearly two years. Perez allowed eight in only 4 1/3 innings -- the first time he'd given up that many runs since May 7, 2007.

How it happened was more stunning.

Perez led NL pitchers in stifling left-handed hitters last season -- they batted only .158 against him. Only five left-handers homered off him.

Votto had his way with him. Besides his homer off a hanging slider in the third inning, he also singled home a run in the fifth, when Cincinnati took control by sending nine batters to the plate. Paul Janish's two-run single off reliever Darren O'Day completed the four-run rally that made it 8-4.

"I was feeling good," Perez said. "All of my pitches were working. The problem today was they took a chance on the base hits and the home run."

The Mets were concerned about Perez's lack of innings during spring training. He pitched only two times in 19 days for Mexico during the World Baseball Classic, putting him behind in his conditioning. His first start of the season suggested he still has to catch up.

"I was happy that we saw some glimpses of the old Ollie," manager Jerry Manuel said, referring to his seven strikeouts. "I think he'll be fine. There was enough there to say we should be OK."

Cincinnati's guitar-strumming starter was one of its biggest concerns in the last few weeks of spring training. Arroyo had to put down the guitar pick -- he plays nearly every day for fun -- after his carpal tunnel flared up, causing a loss of power in his pitching hand.

Baker gave him extra rest the last week in Florida, and it seemed to help a lot. Arroyo overcame one bad inning -- Ryan Church had a two-run double in the third -- as he extended his recent success against the Mets' potent offense. The lanky right-hander who throws a mixed bag of pitches from different angles has gone 5-1 in his last seven starts against the Mets, including a pair of complete games.

"I thought it was a great game," Arroyo said. "I went in knowing I wasn't going to be 100 percent and that I'd be battling for a win."

He lasted six innings in this one, handing an 8-5 lead over to the bullpen. Carlos Delgado had a sacrifice fly in the seventh off Arthur Rhodes.

Gary Sheffield, who signed a one-year deal with the Mets on Friday, made his first plate appearance in the ninth against Cordero and took a called third strike. The 40-year-old outfielder has 499 career homers.

Game notes
There was a moment of silence before the seventh-inning stretch for Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, who died in a car accident in California overnight. ... The Mets play three games in Florida before going home for their first official games at Citi Field. ... Perez's career high is nine runs allowed against Colorado on June 7, 2006. He has allowed eight runs in a game six times. ... The Reds haven't been swept in a season-opening series since 2003, when they dropped the first three games at Great American Ball Park to Pittsburgh. ... X-rays on Reds INF/OF Jerry Hairston Jr. were negative. Hairston left Wednesday night's game after fouling two pitches off his lower right leg. He was available to pinch-hit on Thursday.