Luis Castillo lived up to his La Piedra nickname Friday night in Great American Ball Park.
La Piedra. The Rock.
Castillo, a 15-game loser this season, pitched like a 15-game winner in arguably the biggest game of the season for the Cincinnati Reds.
He was facing the Los Angeles Dodgers, the highest scoring team in the majors and matched up against 14-game winner Walker Buehler.
But working in a playoff-like atmosphere, Castillo and his fast-dipping, deep-diving change-up and 98 to 100 mph fastball, held the Dodgers scoreless for 6 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts, paving the way for a 3-1 victory in the first game of a three-game series against the defending World Series champions.
Castillo humbled the thunder. The Dodgers discovered that trying to hit Castillo on this night was like being asked to name the world’s capitals in alphabetical order.
And it was a Luis type of night. Luis Cessa followed Castillo with 1 2/3 perfect innings.
The Dodgers scored their run in the ninth inning off Michael Lorenzen and pinch-hitter Albert Pujols came to the plate with two outs, representing the tying run. Pujols lined out to center to end it.
“We were playing a high-quality team with great batters and with everything involved, it definitely felt like a playoff game,” said Castillo. “For that reason, I felt even more focused today.”
When Castillo wasn’t getting feeble swings on his change-ups, he was whizzing high-velocity fastballs by them, fueled by adrenaline.
“I definitely felt a lot of adrenaline,” he said. “The fans were behind me, helping me get even more adrenaline and I felt it especially going up against a team like the Dodgers.”
Mookie Betts led off the game with a double, but Castillo struck out Max Muncy and Trea Turner, issued a walk and retired Justin Turner on a ground ball.
His only other issue was in the sixth when Trea Turner rolled a broken-bat single to center and Corey Seager rolled an infield hit the opposite way from the shift. Fly balls from Justin Turner and Will Smith ended that threat.
“I really like those situations,” said Castillo. “I tell myself that I know I can get out of this jam right now. For me, that was a quality inning, and I knew I had enough to get out of it.
“It’s my positive mentality and I keep telling myself, ‘I’m good at this, I’m good at this,’” he added. “That helps me out.”
Manager David Bell called Castillo’s performance his all-time favorite.
“I told him that I’d seen him pitch a lot of great games, so it’s difficult to compare, but I told him this one was my favorite,” said Bell. “It was really impressive, a different level of execution.
“He was in an extra gear tonight and I noticed it early,” said Bell. “He had to pitch out of a couple of spots, and he looked a little bit different. There was an extra gear, for sure. The better the team, the bigger the challenge, that’s when he finds an extra gear.”
Kyle Farmer led off the fifth with a double and scored the game’s first run on a single by Tucker Barnhart. Farmer’s second double was a two-run rip in the sixth and was all the Reds needed against Buehler.
For Farmer it was particularly gratifying because he was originally drafted by the Dodgers, but was told he couldn’t play shortstop and was converted to a catcher.
“I love a lot guys over there and they are great friends of mine, great teammates and some of the best friends I ever had,” Farmer said about his ex-teammates. “But I love playing them and the intensity level seems a little different playing against them.”
Of his two- run game-deciding double, Farmer said, “Walker went off his game plan from what he usually does. He was throwing a lot more change-ups and dropping down to throw a two-seamer a lot more. I was sitting on a certain pitch (a slider), and I got it in the zone on the second pitch. I’d hit his fastball and I knew he had a slider in his bag and I was kind of waiting on it. He left it over the plate, and it was a big knock for the team.”
Bell said Farmer’s success was not only due to him wanting to prove the Dodgers made a mistake, but the fact it was a big game.
“More than playing against his former team, it’s the fact that it’s a big game,” said Bell. “He is definitely a big-time player. He responds in games like this. It says a lot about who Kyle is. Not a surprise that he had a big game tonight.”
St. Louis beat San Diego on Friday night to remain one game ahead of the Reds in the race for the second wild-card berth. The Padres are 1 1/2 games back.
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