HOUSTON -- Although he always wears a relaxed smile with his laidback demeanor through wins and losses, it was clear Edinson Volquez really wanted to get win No. 17 -- badly. Especially since it took five tries to get it. "Finally," Volquez exclaimed minutes after the Reds' 2-1 win over the Astros on Tuesday night. His four-start winless streak was snapped.
The right-hander really earned the victory, with a career-high 7 1/3 innings pitched. Volquez (17-6, 3.21 ERA) gave up just one run and six hits with an intentional walk. His nine strikeouts moved his season total to 206, which tied Gary Nolan's 1967 total for most by a Reds pitcher in his first season with the team. "He pitched lights-out," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. Volquez, who has thrown 196 innings for the season and has one start remaining on Sunday, became the first Reds pitcher to notch more than 16 wins since Pete Schourek went 18-7 in 1995. The one Astros run came quickly. Volquez's first batter, Kazuo Matsui, hit an 0-2 fastball into the left-field seats for a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first. After Miguel Tejada hit a one-out double and Lance Berkman drew a 2-0 count, Volquez dropped the hammer. With three straight 96-mph fastballs, he struck out Berkman and got a Geoff Blum popup. "I don't know. I just threw it. I didn't even throw too hard tonight," Volquez said. "The ball came out of my fingers at 96-97. I don't force myself to throw hard. I just let it go." At times, Volquez topped out at 98 mph on the ballpark radar screen. He also fooled many with his changeup and slider. "I've never heard so many rave reviews at first base," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "I'm the guy that gets to hear from the hitters, not that there were many guys coming to first base. But the ones that did said he had the best stuff they've seen from him the whole year." Volquez was given a 2-0 first-inning lead, and he made it hold up. Facing Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez with Jeff Keppinger on first base and one out, Votto hit a drive to the warning track in left field. Ty Wigginton circled and let the ball drop in. Although it didn't touch Wigginton's glove, it was ruled a three-base error that scored Keppinger. Votto scored on Jolbert Cabrera's RBI single to left field. Volquez retired nine straight following a Wigginton double in the second inning. In the sixth, the Reds got a break. Michael Bourn held up trying to score from second on a Tejada single. Tejada wound up getting thrown out in a rundown between first and second base. The game also featured the first use of instant replay involving the Reds. Votto hit what appeared to be a home run to right field. The ball struck the top of the wall and bounced back and was ruled a single by first-base umpire Bill Miller. The Reds argued that the ball bounced off a front-row seat. Crew chief Gary Darling upheld the call after watching the video replay, and Volquez lost a chance at extra insurance. It didn't matter. Unlike past starts, pitch count wasn't an issue for Volquez and he remained strong in the late innings. He returned for the eighth and gave up pinch-hitter David Newhan's leadoff single. Matsui moved the runner with a sacrifice bunt on Volquez's 98th pitch before Baker went to the bullpen. "His pitch count was very good for the amount of innings he went today," Baker said. "That wasn't a problem today. He threw the ball great. We just thought that was enough for him, especially this late in the season." Bill Bray got Bourn to fly out, and David Weathers walked Tejada before inducing a groundout from the always imposing Berkman. In a one-hit ninth, Francisco Cordero notched his 34th save after a brief controversy. Wigginton lined out to shortstop Paul Janish, who flipped to second base to double up Reggie Abercrombie. Second-base umpire Jerry Meals called Abercrombie safe, but third-base umpire Darling overruled the call to end the game. The Astros' playoff hopes took a big hit. They fell to 4 1/2 games back in the National League Wild Card race with six to play. They have two teams to catch. That was of no concern to Volquez, who had his long-awaited win. He was 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA over his previous four starts and had control issues. Instead of pressing to do more, he did less between starts. Instead of throwing a bullpen session, he threw on flat ground. "He throws 98 mph with a nasty changeup and a great slider," Tejada raved. "I mean that guy pitches like Cy Young."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.