By Hal McCoy
Luis Castillo stood tall on the Busch Stadium III mound in St. Louis on Friday night.
The much-troubled, much-maligned Cincinnati Reds pitcher flicked aside the demons with a dominating performance against the St. Louis Cardinals, a 6-4 Reds victory.
Castillo pitched six innings and gave up one run, three hits, one walk and struck out five. The only blip on his work sheet was a fifth-inning home run by rookie Edmundo Sosa, his first career homer.
Castillo’s, blowing 98 and 99 miles an hour fastballs, lifted his record to 2-and-8 after the Reds had lost 11 of his previous 12 starts.
“It was time, what more can I say, it was time,” said Castillo. “I’m glad we were able to break the ice today and finally get that W.
“I definitely felt different today, especially when I got into the rhythm of the game” he added. “I was able to make adjustments throughout the game.”
While the change-up always has been Castillo’s go-to pitch, he dazzled the Cardinals with his high-velocity offerings.
“The fastball was pretty good today and I used it a little more,” he said. “I came in today saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to throw more fastballs. It led to my change-up and the rest of my repertoire.”
Offensively, It was Rookie Night. Tyler Stephenson homered on the first pitch of the second inning. Kyle Farmer was hit by a pitch and Jonathan India homered to give Castillo a 3-0 lead after two innings.
India was all over downtown St. Louis covering second base. In addition to the home run, two hits, two RBI and two runs scored, he made five above-and-beyond defensive plays at second base.
“When I’m in the game defensively, it’s fun. It helps my hitting,” said India. “I’m just trying to make plays for the pitcher. That’s the main goal.”
And not only did Castillo pitch his way out of the doldrums, he celebrated with a run-scoring double in the sixth to give himself a 4-1 lead.
“Just another double,” he said with a laugh after his second double this season. “The pitch was over the plate and I just made good contact with it. Another double, what can I say?”
It was a night the Reds didn’t rely on Jesse Winker and/or Nick Castellanos. Neither figured in the early scoring, although both scored insurance runs in the ninth.
Winker was 1 for 5 and Castellanos had two hits, a pair of double that extended his hitting streak to 20 games. And it gave him a league-leading 25 multi-hit games.
Winker singled in the ninth and Castellanos doubled to right for the second time. And both eventually scored to make it 6-1.
And for what happened in the bottom of the ninth, those were two mammoth runs.
Brad Brach followed Castillo with a 1-2-3 seventh that included two strikeouts. Ryan Hendrix retired the first two in the eighth, then ran into difficulty.
Dylan Carlson doubled into the right field corner and Hendrix walked Paul Goldschmidt on four pitches.
With Nolan Arenado, the potential tying run at the plate, Heath Hembree was brought in. Arenado was 1 for 20 at the time and Hembree made him 1 for 21 by striking him out to thwart the mini-uprising.
Hembree lost his save when he gave up a walk and a run-scoring double to Matt Carpenter to make it 6-2. Sean Doolittle was brought in to get the final out.
He got none. And he made it harrowing for the Reds. He walked pinch-hitter Andrew Knisner and Tommy Edman pulled a two-run double left, pulling the Cardinals to within, 6-4.
Dylan Carlson singled to bring the potential winning run to the plate in ever-dangerous Paul Goldschmidt forcing Bell to remove Doolittle and replace him with Michael Feliz.
Feliz struck out Goldschmidt on three pitches and the exhale from the Reds dugout could be heard in Moline.
The night, though, belonged to Castillo.
“it was amazing, man,” said India. “Luis Castillo? He can pitch. He’s always been a great pitcher. But this is baseball, a tough sport. We go through tough times in this game.
“One thing I noticed about Luis, he never gets down,” India added. “He is always smiles, always has a positive attitude, and that’s why he is coming out of it. He is electric out there.”
St. Louis pitchers hit Cincinnati batters with four pitches after Adam Wainwright hit three on Thursday night. That’s seven HBP’s in two games and the Cardinals haver plunked Reds hitters 13 times this season.
None, though, appeared to be malicious.