On one level, the Yankees are the husband (or wife) for whom it seems impossible to get a proper birthday (or anniversary) (or Christmas) (or Hanukah) present. After all, what do you get the husband (or wife) (or baseball team) that seems to have everything?
Then Luis Castillo strode to the Yankee Stadium mound Thursday night.
Suddenly, in a moment of inspiration similar to when you finally identify the perfect gift for your spouse, the Yankees pinpointed the ideal present for themselves.
All that was missing was gift wrap and a bow.
“He’s got a two seamer and a four-seamer, hits 95-99 [mph], he paints both sides of the plate,” manager Aaron Boone said, wonder 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 both side of the plate with it and has a great changeup.
“He was great.”
He was that. The Yankees spent most of Thursday night looking as if they were toying with the Reds the way a terrier toys with a chipmunk after he’s caught the critter. They wiped out a 1-0 deficit. They erased a 4-1 deficit. They sliced a 7-4 lead to 7-6 one batter into the 10th inning. The Reds are one of the worst teams in baseball, the Yankees the best. It seemed inevitable.
But … well. That’s baseball, Suzyn.
But so is the game that’s about to pick up some steam across the next few weeks, the trade-deadline parlor game that promises to be extra interesting in New York City this year. The Mets are certainly in the market for another bat for their lineup and another arm for their bullpen. The Yankees, despite their 62-27 record (and their magic number for clinching the AL East of 61) could surely use another lockdown starter now that their rotation has sustained a few nicks and bruises the past few weeks.
And there, for all to see, was Castillo.
Once, after The Beatles performed their final live performance, a rooftop concert in January 1969 high above 3 Savile Row, which housed their Apple recording studio, John Lennon famously quipped into a live microphone: “I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, 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 the Rutles than the Beatles. But Castillo surely passed his audition.
He threw seven brilliant innings at the Yankees, allowing only a run (which probably wouldn’t have scored if his second baseman, Jonathan India, hadn’t botched a ground ball with the infield in), and striking out eight. He reached 98 mph regularly across 114 pitches. The Yankees looked positively baffled, first pitch to last.
And Castillo looked to be having a hell of a time, looked as comfortable pitching at Yankee Stadium in front of 41,311 people as he normally does in front of friends and family back home at Great American Ball Park. That’s as important to see as anything, if you’re the Yankees and you’re thinking about throwing some pricey chips on the table and pointing at Cincinnati.
Now, there is a fair question here. The Reds are in full rebuilding mode and, sure, that generally means that anyone is in play if the return is big enough. Shouldn’t the Reds at least be thinking about making Castillo — under team control through next year — a foundational piece, and not a transactional one?
(Of course the Reds are a team whose president, Phil Castellini, bristled earlier this year at fan criticism by pouting and spewing: “Are you gonna abandon being a Reds fan? Are you gonna abandon following this team?”)
It’s simple really:
If Castillo is in play, the Yankees need to 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 pledged to honor what the Yankees have already done by making sure they have a maximized team entering October.
And a maximized team would have Gerrit Cole and Castillo as a 1-2 punch at the start of any postseason series. The Yankees will already steam into October as betting favorites.
That would make the money look even smarter.
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