After throwing 29 pitches and recording the last six outs in the Rays’ Game 5 win over the Yankees in the American League Division Series, Diego Castillo's availability was in question heading into Sunday’s Game 1 of the AL Championship Series against the Astros.
Not only was Castillo available, he was the savior.
With the Rays holding on to a one-run lead in the eighth inning, the Astros loaded the bases against Aaron Loup. That’s when manager Kevin Cash turned to Castillo, who had told the Rays’ skipper that he was available to pitch after playing catch earlier in the day. The right-hander delivered in a big way -- again.
Castillo needed just one pitch -- a 97 mph sinker -- to get Yuli Gurriel to ground into an inning-ending double play, helping the Rays win Game 1, 2-1, at Petco Park. Castillo’s five-out save was the longest save in Rays postseason history.
“He’s a stud. Just a remarkable performance,” Cash said. “We’re just so appreciative of his effort and the way he’s been able to bounce back and just, I mean make just filthy pitches to unbelievable hitters.”
In postseason history, teams winning Game 1 of any best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 114 of 179 times (64%).
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Castillo idolized Fernando Rodney, which is what ultimately made him start dreaming of one day getting big outs in a postseason game. Castillo has now made four appearances in the Rays’ last six games, but that didn’t stop him from living up his dream with some filthy stuff.
“This is incredible. It’s a dream come true,” Castillo said in Spanish. “I’ve always wanted to do this, and thankfully the team has been giving me this opportunity, and I feel really happy that I’ve been able to come through.”
Castillo got three swings and misses on the nine sliders he threw Sunday, including one out of the zone that Jose Altuve chased to end the game. He paired the 89 mph slider with eight sinkers that averaged 97.5 mph.
Castillo became the second pitcher in club history to record a win and a save in a single postseason, joining David Price in 2008.
“I think the job he did, it sums up his whole year,” said Rays catcher Mike Zunino. “He’s stepped up big for us, and he’s been throwing a lot for us in some big situations.
"Him being able to come out there, that’s him really showing what he’s made out of.”
But not only did the Rays rely on depth, they also made sure to put each player in situations that prepared them for the postseason. Over the course of the regular season, the Rays had 12 pitchers record a save. Some of that was because of a string of injuries to key pitchers, but a lot of it was by design.
The Rays wanted all of their pitchers to experience high-leverage situations, and that paid off on Sunday. With Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks unavailable after going two or more innings in ALDS Game 5 on Friday, the Rays turned to Loup, John Curtiss and Ryan Thompson to get through the middle innings. They delivered with 2 1/3 shutout frames.
Tampa Bay is 16-5 in one-run games this season, including 15-3 since Aug 7.
“It’s impressive,” Snell said of the bullpen’s performance. “They step up, they stand out. They’re very talented. They’re very good at what they do, and it’s just a lot of them. You have to credit the front office for what they bring in. These guys in the bullpen just keep getting better.”
For many reasons, the Rays knew Game 1 was going to be challenging. They were going to be without some key arms after the emotional win against the Yankees, and they were facing the Astros’ top hurler in Framber Valdez.
But despite the challenges, the Rays found a way -- just like they usually do. They got offensive contributions from Randy Arozarena -- his fourth home run in six postseason games -- and Zunino -- who delivered what proved to be the decisive RBI -- and continued to find different standouts on the pitching staff.
The overall depth of teams will be tested with potentially seven games in seven nights, but that’s how the Rays were built. And that’s what makes them dangerous.
“I think all teams in a seven-game series with no off-days, you’re going to see some depth really challenged,” Cash said. “And we’re confident that we have the depth that is capable of being challenged but also being capable of succeeding.”