By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — When Mike Trout drops a put-it-in-your-pocket fly ball in the first inning, it is beyond a reasonable doubt that things are tilted heavily in your direction.
That’s exactly what happened Monday night in Great American Ball Park.
Trout, baseball’s Mr. Universe, perhaps bored to tears because the Cincinnati Reds were circling the bases like worker ants, dropped a routine fly ball by Tucker Barnhart in the first inning.
That was after the Reds already had scored five runs and it did no damage. It was merely shocking to see from a guy arguably baseball’s best player.
And giving Reds’ starter Luis Castillo a five-run cushion in the first inning is like giving a strip sirloin to a timber wolf – just try to take it away from him.
There was no way that would be done by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, whose name is longer than any winning streak they’ve put together this season.
Castillo and his bossa nova change-up completely baffled the Angels on their way to a fifth straight loss and ninth in 11 games, 7-4.
La Piedra, Castillo’s nickname (the stone), was rock solid, holding the Angels to two runs and three hits over seven innings. He struck out a career-high 13, including the side in the seventh, the last one on his 119th pitch. And it earned him his 11th win this season.
Castillo looked strong enough to finish what he started, which he told acting manager Freddie Benavides he would do.
“He told me before the game, ‘You’ve got seven innings tonight,’ and I told him, ‘No, no, no, I’m going nine,” said Castillo. “And I could have, I wanted to, but with 119 pitches they told me no more and I have to respect the manager.”
During his playing days, Benavides played with Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez with the Montreal Expos. And he sees similarities, especially their change-ups.
“It is hard to put anybody in Pedro’s category because he is a Hall of Famer, one of the best ever,” said Benavides. “Luis does remind me of him, they way he has fun out there. He is always competing and he does have the Pedro Martinez change-up.”
Castillo was all smiles when he heard the comparison.
“It is amazing that he compared me with Pedro Martinez,” Castillo said. “I heard him talking about it and it is really nice of him. I hear a lot of people compare me to him. It is an honor to be a pitcher like he was. He was a superstar.”
Of wanting to continue on the mound, Castillo said, “In the fourth inning, Freddie told me, ‘You have eight innings,’” said Castillo. “I told him, ‘Oh, no. I have nine in me. I want to go nine. I’m going to grow mentally and physically as a pitcher by throwing as many pitches as I can throw.”
Benavides appreciated his young pitcher’s quest to defend the mound to the bitter end.
“If you are going to be an elite pitcher you have to go out there and do that,” he said. “He is an All-Star and he earns it. He wanted it tonight. He was The Man. To be in with the Big Boys, that’s what he has to do.”
Trout responded to his error by getting two of the three hits off Castillo, the second one a 442-foot explosion into the upper deck, Trout’s 37th home run. Trout’s home run-to-error ration is 37 to 2.
The Angels were in full retreat after the Reds scored five runs in the first inning, proving once again that they are First and Foremost.
They lead the major leagues with 93 runs in the first inning and they lead the majors in RBI with 90 in the first inning. When they lead after the first inning, they are 28-and-7.
“It is crazy, but we have very good hitters at the top of the order,” said Benavides. “It is very potent at the top. And when we get something going in the first it helps our pitchers.”
The first inning began with a Jesse Winker single and a Joey Votto walk. With one out, new clean-up hitter Aristides Aquino lobbed a broken bat single to center to plate a run.
Jose Iglesias doubled to right for a run and a 2-0 lead. Nick Senzel dumped a wedge shot just behind first base for a two-run single and Jose Peraza doubled home the first run.
Aquino was 0 for 6 in his first two major league starts and look badly overmatched. Fans demanded his extrication from the lineup.
Since then, though, Aquino is 4-for-6 with a two-run home run, four RBI and walk. His two-out, nobody on single in the 10th inning Sunday against the Atlanta Braves started a three-run game-winning rally.
“It is on us to continue to find opportunities for him to play,” said manager David Bell. “He is creating his own opportunities. And he did that by the year he was having in Triple-A (28 home runs). And he has shown in a very short sample what he can do here.
“He is a big, strong guy who has made some nice adjustments to his swing. He just needs to be himself and he can contribute a lot to our offense,” Bell added.
When Castillo left, the Angels put up a mild threat against Wandy Peralta, who put two on base with one out in the eighth. Michael Lorenzen came in to strike out Trout and retire Kole Calhoun on a weak fly ball.
Of course, the Reds couldn’t make it easy, not with their queasy bullpen. David Hernandez was inserted in the ninth inning and gave up a one-out walk and a home run to pinch-hitter Brian Goodwin, cutting the margin from 7-2 to 7-4.
When he walked Luis Rengifo on a full count with two outs, acting manager Benavides brought in close Raisel Iglesias to face pinch-hitter Shohei Ohtani. Iglesias struck out Ohtani swinging so hard he lost his batting helmet. And it was save No. 22 for Iglesias.
The Angels overthought their pitching plans in this one. They tried to get cute, starting an ‘opener,’ Taylor Cole. The thought was for him to pitch the first two innings and then turn it over to Patrick Sandoval.
Cole survived only the first inning, giving up five runs and five hits. Sandoval pitched the next five and held the Reds to two runs and three hits, striking out eight in his five innings.
They should have started Sandoval.