On one level, the Yankees are the man (or wife) to whom it seems impossible to get a proper birthday (or anniversary) (or Christmas) (or Hanukah) gift. After all, what makes you the man (or wife) (or baseball team) who seems to have it all?
Then Luis Castillo strode to the Yankee Stadium mound Thursday night.
Suddenly, in a moment of inspiration similar to when you finally identified the perfect gift for your spouse, the Yankees found the ideal gift for themselves.
The only thing missing was gift wrap and a bow.
“He has a two-seam and a four-seam, hitting 95-99 [mph], he paints both sides of the plate, ”said manager Aaron Boone, wondering in his voice, a few hours later, after his Yankees had lost, 7-6 in 10 innings. “He gives you two different looks with the fastball, works on both sides of the plate with it and has a great change.
“He was amazing.”
It was him. The Yankees spent most of Thursday night looking like they were playing with the Reds, like a terrier playing with a chipmunk after catching a creature. They wiped out a 1-0 deficit. They erased a 4-1 deficit. They brought a 7-4 lead to 7-6 a batter into the 10th inning. The Reds are one of the worst teams in baseball, the Yankees the best. It seemed inevitable.
But. It’s baseball, Suzyn.
But the same is true of the game, which is gaining momentum over the next few weeks, the parlor game with trade deadlines that promises to be extra interesting in New York City this year. The Mets are definitely on the market for yet another bat for their lineup and another arm for their bullpen. The Yankees, despite their 62-27 record (and their magic numbers to reach the AL East of 61), could certainly use another lockdown starter now that their rotation has gotten a few notches and bruises the last few weeks.
And there, for all to see, was Castillo.
Once, after The Beatles performed their last live performance, a rooftop concert in January 1969 high above 3 Savile Row, which housed their Apple recording studio, John Lennon famously said in a live microphone: “I want to thank you on behalf of the group and us myself, and I hoped we passed the audition. ”
Well, it’s hard to speak for the rest of the Reds, and as a group, they’re more Rutles than Beatles. But Castillo certainly passed his audition.
He threw seven brilliant innings at the Yankees, allowing only one run (which probably would not have been scored if his second baseman, Jonathan India, had not failed a groundball with the infield in), and struck out eight. He reached 98 mph regularly across 114 places. The Yankees looked positively confused, first lane to last.
And Castillo seemed to have a hell of a time, he looked just as comfortable pitching at Yankee Stadium in front of 41,311 people as he usually does in front of friends and family back home at Great American Ball Park. It’s just as important to see as anything else if you’re Yankees and you’re considering throwing some expensive chips on the table and pointing to Cincinnati.
Now there is a reasonable question here. The Reds are in full rebuilding mode, and that of course generally means that everyone is in play if the return is big enough. Shouldn’t the Reds at least think about making Castillo – under team control through next year – a basic piece and not a transactional one?
(Of course, the Reds are a team whose president, Phil Castellini, earlier this year stunned fan criticism by shouting and vomiting: “Do you want to give up being a Reds fan? Do you want to give up following this team?”)
It’s really simple:
If Castillo is in play, the Yankees must be in play. They have already been identified, along with the Dodgers, as one of the two most active suitors. Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have both vowed to honor what the Yankees have already done by ensuring they have a maximized team coming into October.
And a maximized team would have Gerrit Cole and Castillo as a 1-2 hit at the start of any postseason series. The Yankees will already be steaming into October as betting favorites.
It would make the money look even smarter.