Castro, on 'another level,' hits decisive blast to rally Twins

September 13th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- You never know whose turn it is to play hero for these Twins -- and on Tuesday night, it was ’s turn to step into the spotlight.

Really, that’s where Castro has been ever since he returned from an oblique injury and paternity leave at the start of September. But in a big situation against one of the American League’s best teams, Castro drove the point home with a go-ahead two-run blast in the seventh inning that pushed the Twins to a 3-2, come-from-behind win against the Rays at Target Field.

“He’s just been hot,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Whatever he’s got going on right now, I like it. He’s spraying a lot of good, hard line drives, he’s playing the way he’s played all year long, and I think he’s even taken it to another level right now, which is pretty sweet to see.”

  • Games remaining: vs. TB (1), at CWS (4), at CIN (3), vs. LAA (3), vs. OAK (3), at COL (3)
  • Standings update: The Twins (76-69) hold a 7 1/2-game lead on the Guardians (69-77) for the AL Central title. Cleveland clinched the tiebreaker by winning the season series, 7-6. Minnesota is currently the third-best division winner, meaning it would host a best-of-three Wild Card Series vs. the final Wild Card entrant starting on Oct. 3.
  • Magic number: 10 (for AL Central).

The Twins trailed for the majority of Tuesday’s game against former teammate-turned-Rays starter Zack Littell. But they finally created an opening in the seventh, down 2-1, when Max Kepler singled to snap a streak of 11 straight hitters retired.

With two outs, Castro dug beneath the zone for a first-pitch Littell slider and crushed it a Statcast-projected 434 feet to the bleachers in deep right-center for the third-longest homer of his career and his seventh of the season. Since returning to the team on Sept. 3, he’s 11-for-28 (.393) with two doubles, one triple, two homers and two stolen bases in nine games.

“They've been throwing me a lot of offspeed,” Castro said. ”I know in the reports, I know they have it for them to throw me a lot of offspeed, so I have to make the adjustments. I was ready for that pitch. I really like those pitches down low, so I took advantage and got a good swing on it, and I was successful.”

The end to the divisional race is now in sight for the Twins, who lead the second-place Guardians by 7 1/2 games with only 17 left to play after Cleveland beat San Francisco, 3-1, on Tuesday night.

Castro’s surprise emergence as one of this team’s most versatile weapons has played no small part in that success.

While the Twins entered Spring Training with their projected roster mostly set, a few lingering injuries created the opportunity for Castro to break camp as a surprise in the final roster spot -- and even Baldelli admitted the Twins didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the skill set Castro brought at that point.

They’ve had to learn for themselves throughout the season -- and they’ve quickly found that he might be one of the more well-rounded players Baldelli has fielded in his time in Minnesota.

“Even though he was in our division with Detroit, there’s only so much you’re going to learn [by] seeing a guy,” Baldelli said. “We saw him a lot, but we didn’t see all these different things.”

The Twins learned, for instance, that Castro can play a good center field with a much better arm than they expected. He has served as the club’s primary center fielder in the absence of Michael A. Taylor, and he has also appeared everywhere on the diamond but first base and catcher as a key facilitator of Baldelli’s late-inning bench moves due to his versatility.

The Twins also didn’t realize that Castro would be this good of a baserunner. His 31 steals this season are the most by a Twins player since Ben Revere swiped 40 bags in 2012, and Castro is one of only nine players in club history with a 30-steal season.

In fact, he’s the only Twins player aside from Hall of Famer Rod Carew to steal home three times in a season.

Castro is one of few players on the team who can drop down a sacrifice bunt; he can even pitch in a pinch to save the bullpen’s arms. And that .737 OPS in 110 games has been a pleasant development.

He actually led the Twins’ position players in WAR, per Baseball Reference, for much of the summer -- and there’s plenty of good reason for that.

It helps that he can pop a game-changing homer on occasion, too.

“It’s very easy to get excited knowing that you have him and you can take advantage of all those different things in one given game,” Baldelli said. “He can affect a game in a lot of ways, and he continues to do that.”