The Seattle Mariners’ trade deadline acquisition of right-hander Luis Castillo was executed with moments like this in mind.
Seattle, after thrice blowing four-run leads in an 8-7 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 1 of this American League Division Series, is in desperate need of a shutdown performance from its starter in Game 2 on Thursday. The exact type of effort Castillo delivered last Friday in Toronto.
Castillo went 4-2 with a 3.17 ERA in 11 starts after joining the Mariners in a midseason trade from the Cincinnati Reds. Handed the ball for the opener of the AL wild-card series against the Blue Jays, Castillo twirled 7 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing six hits and recording five strikeouts.
In that moment, Castillo confirmed his reputation as a big-game pitcher, one he certainly relishes.
“You know, it’s that energy that I feel that is kind of the environment,” Castillo said. “The fans play a big role that gives me that little extra energy to compete and give us that little extra energy to compete.”
Castillo has faced the Astros only once in his career, limiting them to two runs on two hits and six walks with seven strikeouts over six innings in a 3-2 win with the Reds on June 17, 2019. He joined the Mariners after they had already completed their 19-game season series with Houston, and his arrival provided Seattle a certified ace to front an already strong rotation.
“There’s a certain something about certain pitchers in the game,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I think Luis Castillo has that. When he takes the mound I know how our team feels playing behind him. Like, he’s a dude. Like … his mannerisms on the mound. The other team knows it.
“The looks on the batters’ faces when they’re getting in the on-deck circle. Or they’re in the dugout and you look into the other dugout like he’s got great stuff. And there’s no reason he can’t have a great outing for us (Thursday).”
The Astros are expecting the same from left-hander Framber Valdez (2022 postseason debut; 17-6, 2.82 ERA regular season), whose breakout campaign included his posting a major-league record 25 consecutive quality starts en route to an AL-leading 201 1/3 innings. Valdez developed into a true workhorse, also pacing the AL in complete games (three), batters faced (827) and homers allowed per nine innings (0.5).
Valdez hit a two-start rough patch following the conclusion of his streak but put a tidy bow on his year in the season finale by tossing five scoreless innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing two hits and posting 10 strikeouts. With the postseason still ahead, that start didn’t represent a coronation for Valdez, but it did allow him to reflect on his development throughout the season.
“At the end of the regular season I got a little bit of chance to sit down, but then I thought, ‘The season is not over yet,'” Valdez said. “I think I haven’t really gotten a chance to really enjoy and think about like everything that I’ve done.
“I think after the World Series is over and we’re done playing, I think that’s when I’m going to actually sit down and enjoy and think about all the things that I did this year.”
The Astros’ dramatic walk-off victory in Game 1 provided its share of memorable moments, but all it delivered to Houston was a 1-0 series lead. There is no guarantee that the Astros will gain anything additional beyond that singular win, even though it was extraordinary by any measure.
“Well, I think it helps,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “But momentum can be extended or stopped by who is pitching against you and who is pitching for you. So it starts over, momentum starts over.”
–MK Bower, Field Level Media