By HAL McCOY
Mother Nature played a cruel trick on Cincinnati Reds pitcher Luis Castillo on the Fourth of July in Great American Park.
It appeared as if Castillo was on his way to a complete game shutout over the Milwaukee Brewers.
He had one-hitter and a one-run lead with two outs in the eighth inning when the skies opened, forcing a long delay.
Even though he had thrown only 97 pitches and was never in trouble, the delay forced manager David Bell to tell his Castillo his day was over.
But all’s well that ends well. Both David Hernandez and Raisel Iglesias put runners on base, but the Brewers didn’t score and the Reds posted a superbly played 1-0 victory.
Yes, the Reds remain in last place. Yes, the Reds are three games under .500. But they are only 3 1/2 games out of first place.
Castillo took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and he struck out Mike Moustakas. But his first pitch to Keston Hiura was lined into center field for a single.
Perhaps a bit distracted over the hit, Castillo permitted the next hitter, Eric Thames, to hit one deep to right. But Yasiel Puig caught it at the wall.
It was the second straight shutout by the Reds over the high-powered Milwaukee offense, 23 straight scoreless innings after Sonny Gray and Raisel Iglesias combined for a 3-0 shutout Tuesday.
After losing the first game of the series, the Reds took three straight from the first place Brewers.
The Reds needed Castillo’s handiwork because Milwaukee’ 10-game winner, Brandon Woodruff, wasn’t’ giving up anything, either.
The Reds have created mayhem in the first inning all season. They lead the league in first-running runs scored, home runs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
And they struck for the game’s only run in the first inning, if struck is the word. It was a 60-foot dribbler in the grass up the third base line by Yasiel Puig that produced the run.
Jesse Winker had three hits, including a double to open the bottom of the first. He took third on Joey Votto’s single.
Puig than rolled one up the third base line for an infield hit as Winker scored. The Reds could have made it much more, but after they loaded the bases with one out Nick Senzel hit into a double play.
Puig is a functioning spark plug right now. Of the last seven runs scored by the Reds, Puig has either driven in or scored six of those runs.
The Reds kept putting runners on base against Woodruff, but he kept wiggling free. Cincinnati stranded six runners in the first five innings.
After the rain, Hernandez replaced Castillo and walked pinch-hitter Jesus Aguilar, but struck out Yasmani Grandal to end the eighth.
Closer Raisel Iglesias took over the ninth and gave up a leadoff double, putting the potential tying run on second.
Then came the defensive play of the day, maybe the season. Mike Moustakas lifted a foul ball down the left field line. Phillip Ervin charged to the wall and reached into the stands. He was fighting the wall and fans reaching for the ball. But he snagged it — a huge out.
“That was a tough play, for him to go, I wouldn’t say reckless, but super aggressive to do whatever he had to do to get a huge out,” said manager David Bell during his post-game media interview. “It says a lot about his desire to win the game.
“That play, with that quality of a hitter at the plate (Moustakas), gives Iggy a little extra motivation to get it done.”
Hiura, the man with the only hit off Castillo, grounded to second and Yelich took third with two outs. It ended, dramatically, when Eric Thames flied to right and Iglesias had his 16th save in 18 chances.
For Castillo, it was extra emphasis for being named to the All-Star, although his 8-and-2 record and 2.29 earned run average, are credentials enough.
“It was the best outing of my entire career,” Castillo said through translator Julio Morillo during his post-game media gathering. “I ws throwing really good out there, competing, and things went well.”
Well? Talk about understatement.
Asked if he knew he was throwing a no-hitter, Castillo smiled and said, “Not really. When they got the base-hit in the seventh, the fans started clapping and cheering. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ Somebody said, ‘That’s their first hit.’”
About having to leave due to the delay, he said, “I was felt a little disappointed because it was a really good game, only one hit, and I was throwing the best game of my career.”
Castillo has been roughed up a couple of times this year by the Brewers and decided to change his approach.
“I made a couple of adjustments in the bullpen and in the game as well,” he said. “I watched video of how I pitched against them before. I tried to work backwards with my pitches, the opposite way I pitched against them before.”
Did it work? Ask the Brewers.