By Joe Kay
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI — Joey Votto didn’t show up for his pregame introduction. He wasn’t much at the plate, either. With the game tied in the eighth, he was vintage.
Zack Cozart had three hits and a tying sacrifice fly in the eighth inning, and Votto followed with a bases-loaded single that sent the Cincinnati Reds to a 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in a Monday opener matching the majors’ worst teams last season.
The Reds scored five times in the eighth against Philadelphia’s work-in-progress bullpen. Jay Bruce completed the rally with a two-run single in front of 43,683 fans, the largest regular-season crowd in Great American Ball Park history.
Votto struck out in his first three at-bats. His one hit made up for everything else.
“That’s why I get the big bucks,” joked Votto, who got a $225 million contract extension that runs through 2023. “I feel like it’s my obligation and I pride myself in going at-bat to at-bat. I try to get better with every at-bat.”
Votto’s day started with intrigue. He didn’t run onto the field when his name was announced during the traditional pre-opener player introductions. After the game, he said it was by design but wouldn’t say why.
“I’m still trying to figure out that caper,” manager Bryan Price said. “I knew he was at the ballpark, just not where he was at that time.”
He went on the field with the rest of the players for warmups, fanned in his first three at-bats, and then delivered the winning hit.
Both teams plunged into a major rebuilding job last season, when the Phillies had the worst record in the majors at 63-99 and the Reds were only one game better. The Reds’ late rally gave them a pleasant start to the new season.
David Hernandez (0-1) came on for the bottom of the eighth trying to hold a 2-1 lead, but failed to retire a batter, giving up Scott Schebler’s pinch-hit double and a pair of walks. Cozart’s fly ball to right tied it. Votto singled off left-hander James Russell for a 4-2 lead. Bruce singled against Hector Neris during the nine-batter rally.
Ross Ohlendorf (1-0) got the win for fanning the only batter he faced.
Freddy Galvis hit a two-run homer, and Jeremy Hellickson allowed only three hits — all by Cozart — in six innings to keep the Phillies ahead until the eighth. Hellickson became only the ninth pitcher to fan Votto three times in a game.
“You don’t give him the same pitch twice,” Hellickson said. “You mix it up as best you can.”
Manager Pete Mackanin had Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz in the starting lineup, in part because of sentimental reasons. Ruiz is expected to back up Cameron Rupp at catcher.
Howard’s error let in Cincinnati’s first run — he dropped Galvis’ throw from shortstop in the first inning.
Mackanin was the fifth former Red to return as the opposing team’s manager on opening day, joining Tom Loftus (1900), Hank O’Day (1914), Joe Tinker (1916) and Lou Piniella (2007). All four of those returned as the Cubs manager.
The Phillies and Reds have split their eight season openers. The Phillies haven’t beaten the Reds on opening day since April 9, 1963, at Connie Mack Stadium. Their last season-opening win in Cincinnati occurred on April 9, 1962, at Crosley Field.
Cozart is the first Reds shortstop with three hits on opening day since Barry Larkin in 2001. Cozart tore ligaments and a tendon in his right knee on June 10 against the Phillies last season.
The Reds decided to call up right-hander Robert Stephenson — their top pick in the 2011 draft — to start the final game of the series on Thursday. He’ll be the seventh Reds pitcher to make his major league debut in the last two seasons.
Phillies: Mackanin hopes that limiting Ruiz’s starts will help the 37-year-old catcher stay healthy.
Reds: C Devin Mesoraco went 0 for 4 in his return from hip surgery. He also got hit on the mask by Maikel Franco’s bat on a swing, but stayed in the game.
Phillies: RHP Aaron Nola starts the second game of the series after a day off on Tuesday. Nola, the Phillies’ top pick in the 2014 draft, made 13 starts for Philadelphia last season and went 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA.
Reds: LHP Brandon Finnegan makes his fifth start for the Reds, who got him from Kansas City in the Johnny Cueto trade last July. He was 2-2 with a 4.18 ERA with Cincinnati.