CINCINNATI -- Before the Reds opened their crucial series vs. the Dodgers on Friday, it was pointed out to manager David Bell that the Luis Castillo-Walker Buehler matchup could very well be a preview of the National League Wild Card Game.
“Wow, that is getting ahead a little bit, but I like it. I love the thought,” Bell responded.
Both pitchers lived up to the billing in a thriller at Great American Ball Park. Castillo was spectacular as he pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts during a 3-1 Reds win. Amid an atmosphere that felt like playoff baseball with 28,926 fans in attendance, he allowed five hits with two walks while throwing a season-high 111 pitches.
“We’re playing a high-quality team with great batters,” Castillo said through translator Jorge Merlos. “With everything involved, it definitely felt like a playoff game today. But for that reason, I felt even more focused today. I thank God that we were able to come out on top, and I was able to have a great performance, too.”
While the Dodgers are assured of a postseason spot and currently hold the first NL Wild Card spot, the Reds still have serious work to do to land the second and final berth. They remain one game behind the Cardinals, who defeated the also-contending Padres on Friday, allowing Cincinnati to leapfrog San Diego.
But in the middle of losing seven straight series, and 12 of its previous 17 games -- many against non-contenders -- Cincinnati found some footing against a Los Angeles team on pace for more than 100 wins. The club notched its first back-to-back wins since Aug. 26-27.
“That was a hell of a game,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “That was so much fun, so much fun. Beat a really good team. I thought Luis threw unbelievably [well]. He commanded the zone when he fell behind. He was able to get right back into the count. We needed it and he delivered, for sure. So did everybody else out of the bullpen.”
Castillo led with his offspeed stuff, with changeups or sliders making up 66 of his pitches. Statcast showed that of the 26 swings against the changeup, which averaged 89.4 mph, the Dodgers whiffed 11 times.
But one of Castillo’s best pitches of the night was a filthy 99.5 mph sinker for a called strike three to Mookie Betts in the third inning.
“I’ve never faced Luis, but I’ve got to think that it makes it very difficult on a hitter, especially if he’s able to command the strike zone with all three pitches, which is what he did tonight,” Barnhart said.
The Dodgers threatened in the top of the sixth inning when Trea Turner hit a soft, broken-bat single to center field and Corey Seager reached on a check-swing single to third base against the shift. But Castillo escaped with a pair of flyball outs.
“You know, I really like those situations,” Castillo said. “I tell myself out there that I can get out of this jam right now. For me, that was a quality inning for me. I knew that I had enough to get out of that inning right there.”
Even with 103 pitches, Castillo was given a chance to return for the seventh inning. No discussion was needed.
“I think it was pretty obvious how he was feeling,” Bell said. “You never know for sure. I did avoid him and he continued to stay focused and locked in. I kind of watched him for a minute or so. There was no question at that point.”
Castillo gave up a one-out single to Matt Beaty in the seventh and was lifted. Luis Cessa followed with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Michael Lorenzen -- pitching in a third straight game -- gave up a run in the ninth but got his fourth save.
“I think every time Luis is pitching, we have confidence,” said shortstop Kyle Farmer, who hit a two-out, two-run double off Buehler in the sixth inning. “You need like one or two runs just to give him some leeway and we did. His stuff was electric tonight. It looked great. It should give the fans some confidence when we get the Wild Card spot, having him pitch in big games in front of crowds like that.”
Buehler allowed three earned runs and six hits over six innings, but the game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth. With only the Reds’ second hit of the night, Farmer led off with a double to right field and scored on Barnhart’s RBI single to center field.
“It’s pretty well known [Castillo is] one of the most talented guys in the league,” Buehler said. “A good night for him and unfortunately, I couldn't keep us in it.”