ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It all felt familiar for Diego Castillo – the artificial light coming down from the sort-of-white roof, the feel of the pitcher’s mound, the sound of cowbells mostly being rung by Tampa Bay Rays employees, the sparse collection of fans dotting the stands and the pressure-filled need for three outs to close a win.
But for the first time in his career, he stood on the mound of Tropicana Field, a place he’d called home for the past four seasons, trying to close out a win against a team that signed him out of tryout camp in the Dominican Republic, groomed him through the minor leagues and helped him grow into a late-inning force.
Facing players who were his teammates less than a week ago, Castillo entered the game with a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to lock up another win over the Rays for his new team. Admittedly, pumped up and excited, he retired pinch-hitter Brett Phillips with his first pitch on a groundball to second. He struck out Brandon Lowe on three pitches. But a walk to Ji-Man Choi brought Joey Wendle to the plate as the tying run. He got Wendle to groundout to end the game and secure the Mariners’ 4-2 victory.
It was Seattle’s sixth consecutive win over Tampa Bay this season. The Mariners can sweep the seven-game season series Wednesday.
While opening the trip with a series loss to a bad Texas Rangers team on a pair of walk-off losses was less than ideal, the Mariners have bounced back, like they’ve done so many times this season, with a series win over the American League East leaders.
“So proud of this group and I have been here all year,” manager Scott Servais said. “We don’t quit. We just keep playing baseball. And I keep saying to the point of nausea, the fact that they love to compete – every one of these guys. And that’s what it’s about, even when it’s not going their way. We lose a couple of tough ones in Texas, well, we will show up, we will compete and see where it takes us.”
In his second appearance since joining the Mariners, Castillo gave up a walk-off homer in one of those losses in Texas. Servais couldn’t wait to get him back out there again in a save situation.
“Anytime a newly acquired player like that struggles, you want to get them back out there,” he said. “But it is really hard to play against your old team the first time. It really is. There’s something just different about it.”
For Castillo, it was his 15th career save at the Trop, but his first in a uniform other than the Rays.
“I was a little bit excited and leaving some of my pitches up in the zone,” he said through interpreter Nasusel Cabrera. “But I made an adjustment and everything went well.”
After admitting he was surprised and saddened to be traded away, he has accepted his new situation and is embracing his new team.
“The Seattle Mariners are my home and I’m not going to think about anyone else other than the Mariners,” he said.
The Mariners got another solid outing from lefty Yusei Kikuchi, who shrugged off a regrettable first pitch of the game and provided his 13th quality start (six-plus innings pitched, three runs or fewer allowed) in 20 outings this season.
He wasn’t quite as dominant compared to past outings with all of his pitches down a few ticks in velocity, but he allowed just two runs (one earned) on six hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
“I didn’t feel like I had my absolute best stuff tonight, but I was able to make big pitches in big situation, especially with my breaking ball and my secondary stuff,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “And Cal (Raleigh) did a great job of calling a great game.”
Kikuchi’s first pitch of the game a “get-it-over” 91-mph fastball wasn’t taken for a complimentary strike. Nope, Randy Arozarena ambushed the gift pitch down the middle, sending his 16th homer deep into the left field seats.
He gave up a hard single to Wander Franco two pitches later. It looked like he might be in serious trouble when Nelson Cruz hammered a hard groundball down the third baseline. But Kyle Seager, Cruz’s self-proclaimed “best friend,” made a difficult backhanded stop and threw off balance to second base where Abraham Toro was waiting to step on the bag and use his plus-throwing arm to fire to first for a double play. Instead of a 2-0 deficit and a runner on second, Kikuchi had the bases empty and two outs.
“It was a big momentum shifter early in the game,” Kikuchi said.
Seager made a very difficult play look routine and almost easy.
“He does make it look easy,” Servais said. “This guy’s played great third base his whole career. Part of it is, he works at it. All of our guys do. They’re out there early. They’re practicing all those plays. That was a perfect feed to second base. It’s only way you turn that double play. Yeah, Nellie’s running and he’s not the fastest guy in the world, but that’s totally around the horn. You’ve got to be very accurate with those throws.”
Kikuchi retired nine of the next 10 batters he faced after the double play despite the down stuff.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.