By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Mother Nature interrupted and intervened with Luis Castillo’s night Thursday in Great American Ball Park, but half-a-game from Castillo and half-a-game from the Cincinnati Reds bullpen is usually more than enough.
And it certainly was on this night as the Reds defeated the Chicago Cubs, 4-2, in a rain-divided game that enabled the Reds to take two of the three games of the series.
Castillo gave up two runs in the first inning on a pair of are-you-kidding-me cheap doubles, then retired 14 straight before the rains came.
Just prior to the skies opening fully, the Reds scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead. Then came a nearly two-hour rain delay, meaning Castillo couldn’t return.
But Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett and Raisel Iglesias muzzled the scorching-hot Cubs the rest of the way, a team that came to town with 13 wins in their previous 15 games.
By pitching 5 1/3 innings and with the Reds maintaining the lead, Castillo was credited with the victory and is now 5-and-1.
So, is Castillo the ace of the Reds’ starting pitching deck? Nobody is better right now and few are better in the National League.
The word ace was mentioned to manager David Bell, somebody wanting his definition of ace and wondering if Castillo qualifies and if his name can be mentioned with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale.
“I want all of our guys to see themselves as our ace on the days they pitch,” said Bell, not wanting to fall into any trap. “Whoever our pitcher is that day I want them to see themselves as that way.”
He did, though, sort of put Castillo at the head of the pack.
“You want your ace to give you the feeling that you have a chance to win that day and Luis Castillo absolutely has given us that every time he has gone out.”
Is he talking about the way Washington feels when Scherzer pitches, the way Houston feels when Verlander pitches, the way Los Angeles feels with Kershaw pitches, the way Boston feels when Sale pitches?
“Those guys have been doing it for years,” said Bell. “That is the difference. Luis Castillo is well on his way there with the start he has had. He is getting close to those elite guys. But I couldn’t feel any better about the five guys we have, really believing that when they pitch we have a chance to win the game if we play defense and score runs.”
And the bullpen has its say, too.
After the rain delay, Michael Lorenzen replaced Castillo and was spotted an out because Castillo retired one batter in the sixth before the deluge arrived.
He struck Kris Bryant, then gave up back-to-back singles before ending the threat by getting Willson Contreras on a ground ball.
Amir Garrett pitched the eighth and the Cubs didn’t get a sniff — three batters, three strikeouts. As Garrett left the mound after the third strikeout he pounded his chest with both fists. Yes, he was a strong as King Kong.
David Hernandez pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and closer Raisel Iglesias screwed the lid on it by retiring three straight in the ninth, the first two via strikeouts as Reds pitchers whiffed 13.
It didn’t look good for Castillo in the first. He walked Kris Bryant on a full count with one out. He struck out Daniel Descalso for the second out.
But Javier Baez hooked one over the third base bag, close to being foul, but called fair, a double that put runners on third and second.
Then the third base bag decided to play. Contreras hit a routine hopper toward third and just as Eugenio Suarez reached for it the ball hit the bag and bounced over his head into short left field and two runs scored.
It remained 2-0 until the fifth when the Reds broke through for three against left handed starter Jose Quintana.
With one out, Jose Peraza lined a home run over the right field wall, his third home run. Castillo singled to left and with two outs Joey Votto walked as the rain came down harder.
A slippery baseball got to Quintana. He threw back-to-back wild pitches, the second one permitting Castillo to score the tying run. Eugenio Suarez singled to push the Reds in front, 3-2.
And the Tabasco-hot Suarez provided a fourth run in the eighth with a single that plated Nick Senzel. The Reds top three hitters in the order, Senzel, Votto and Suarez each had two hits.
“I want to lead the team in homers and RBI, that’s my goal, the best way to help my team and help me feel comfortable,” said Suarez, who after going 0 for 4 in the first game, a 3-1 loss, went 5 for 8 with five RBI in the two wins. And, yes, he does lead the team in home runs with 12 and, yes, he does lead the team in RBI with 31.
When the Cubs came to town as the National League Central’s first-place team, they had not lost any of their last 10 series, winning nine and splitting one. The Reds ended that, outhitting the Cubs in this one, 12-4. Chicago was averaging five runs a game, but the Reds bodacious pitching staff held it to 10 runs in three games.
Now the Reds face another first-place team this weekend, a three-game series in Great American Ball Park against the Los Angeles Dodgers.