Volquez earned rave reviews from opposing batters, pitched 7 1/3 strong innings to help the Cincinnati Reds beat Houston 2-1 and push the Astros to the brink of elimination Tuesday night.
With the Mets' win over Chicago, Houston fell 4½ games behind New York with five games to go. A loss and a Mets win Wednesday would eliminate the Astros from the playoffs.
"We are disappointed that we let a golden opportunity slide tonight," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said.
Volquez (17-6) won in his fifth attempt to get his 17th victory. He had three no-decisions and a loss since winning Aug. 29, against San Francisco. He allowed one run, struck out nine and scattered six hits in the longest outing of his career. He walked one.
"Volquez was fantastic," Votto said. "I've never heard so many rave reviews at first base. The runners stopped and said he had the best stuff they'd seen.
"He was pretty electric. You don't see that many guys look that foolish on pitches the way he was making them look and you're talking about good hitters."
Manager Dusty Baker agreed.
"He pitched lights out," Baker said. "He focused big-time and had his rhythm going. He didn't throw it out of the zone like he had been doing lately."
Volquez credited not throwing a bullpen session between starts.
"I felt good," he said. "My slider worked good tonight and my changeup was good.. I think it was a really good game tonight. The ball was coming out of my fingers easy and hitting 96 and 97."
The Astros were impressed.
"He throws 98 miles an hour with a nasty changeup and a great slider," Miguel Tejada said. "I mean that guy pitches like Cy Young. You face a guy like Volquez, you've got to make the extra [things] because hit by hit you're not going to beat him. He's so tough he can strike out the next three guys."
Wandy Rodriguez (8-7) gave up two unearned runs in five inning and six hits. He struck out seven and walked two.
Jolbert Cabrera then drove in Votto with a single to make it 2-0.
Kaz Matsui led off the first with a home run to left. It was his sixth of the season.
In the seventh inning, umpires used the instant replay to verify a hit by Votto was not a home run.
Replays appeared to show the ball hit the top of the right-field fence, bounced into an empty seat and rebounded back on the field. But officials ruled it stayed in play for a single.
It was the ninth time in his career Matsui has led off the game with a home run. It was the third time this season, the last coming Aug. 8 at Cincinnati. ... Volquez recorded his 200th strikeout of the season in the second inning. He now has 206. Volquez had pitched seven innings 10 times this season. The win marked the first time a Reds starter has reached 17 victories since Pete Schourek went 18-7 in 1995. ... Reliever Chris Sampson left the game in the seventh inning with right lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow. He is day-to-day. The replay timeout was the second instant replay call at Minute Maid Park. The first was when Hunter Pence's double was confirmed against Pittsburgh Sept. 9.