'Wired for these moments': Castillo brilliant in Game 1 win

October 8th, 2022

TORONTO -- This was the precise moment that the Mariners envisioned when they aggressively pushed their chips to the middle of the table and acquired in a Trade Deadline blockbuster.

They mortgaged some of their future to go all-in on the present, but the risk in their minds would be worth the payoff to bring in a “dude,” as manager Scott Servais calls him, to lead them into their first postseason game in 21 years. And exactly 10 weeks after that franchise-propelling deal, Castillo was perhaps even better than Seattle could have envisioned.

The right-hander overpowered the Blue Jays over 7 1/3 scoreless innings en route to a 4-0 victory in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series, becoming the first pitcher in Mariners history to go scoreless that deep in a postseason game. It was the second shutout in Mariners postseason history, joining Game 1 of the 2000 AL Championship Series vs. the Yankees. That night, Freddy Garcia, Jose Paniagua, Arthur Rhodes and Kazuhiro Sasaki silenced NY.

The effort, aided by a three-spot from Seattle’s bats in the first inning, helped him reach cruise control against arguably the best AL lineup in this postseason field and put the Mariners one win away from advancing to the AL Division Series and a trip to Houston.

“I've said it before -- the fans, the energy in that moment gives me that little extra boost when I'm out there,” Castillo said through interpreter Freddy Llanos. “Like I said before, whenever I go up on the mound, I'm going to give everything that I have in my heart and my body to give the best I can.”

To back Castillo early, lined an RBI double that scored , then brought him home on a sky-high, two-run homer that sucked out all the electricity brewing among the sellout crowd. Castillo then ensured that there wouldn’t be any chance to give the massive Canadian contingent anything to cheer about.

“You could clearly see early on he's wired for these moments, when it's on the line on the biggest stage and the crazy environment,” Servais said. “Being able to put him out there today was a no-brainer for me.”

The workhorse threw a whopping 108 pitches and only thrice allowed a runner to advance past first base. Yet for most of the outing, even with a massive uptick in velocity on all his pitches, he was mostly pitching to contact and effectively keeping the ball in the park. He struck out four of his final eight batters, but before that he’d only punched out one.

The effectiveness of Castillo's two-seam fastball was a huge reason why, with horizontal, arm-side movement of up to nearly 20 inches that became overwhelming to Toronto’s righty-stacked lineup. Even when the Blue Jays could make contact, they were doing so way off the barrel, leading to seven of the 22 balls in play being groundouts. Of those same 22, only four were hard-hit (95 mph or higher off the bat), and two of them went for outs.

“The velocity is what it is. It's not the velocity itself,” Blue Jays second baseman Whit Merrifield said. “We're used to seeing velocity. It's all throughout the league. But when he's got two different fastballs at that level, he has a sinker pounding out your hands at 99 to 100 [mph], and then he has the four-seam that he'll throw up and away. It doesn't have that dive. It's got more of a true carry. You're having to make a decision on what that 100 mph pitch is going to do, and that's what makes it tough.”

Castillo used the two-seamer for his most impressive strikeout of the day, which began over the plate out of hand but sailed way inside to a baffled Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He also jammed one in on Bo Bichette’s hands to induce a soft groundout to second base that ended the only real jam all afternoon, with runners on first and second base in the fifth inning. He forced a popout to center from Guerrero in the third in the other instance with multiple runners on.

“It's a very important pitch, the two-seamer,” Castillo said. “It starts off in the middle and then goes towards their hands. It's something I've been working on and worked on throughout the years.”

Castillo is a two-time All-Star and acknowledged as one of the better righty starters in the game, but the dramatic October stage -- on the road in a potentially hostile environment that he never allowed to reach that level -- put this outing into another stratosphere. This could be the first of many postseason starts for him, too, after he signed a five-year, $108 million extension with the Mariners two weeks ago.

, who passionately -- and publicly -- implored ownership to add impact talent last offseason, recalled his reaction to when his wish came true.

“I was ecstatic,” Haniger said. “That's a frontline starter. That's one of the best starters in the game. For us to add a guy like that, it just shows that you know we want to win now.”