NEW YORK — The Mets were on the move, anxiety was high and the outlook was bleak. Yet despite Diego Castillo’s recent hiccups, he’d been in this moment before.
Castillo, Seattle’s up-and-down leverage reliever, was called on with one out in a ninth inning that began with him assuming there’d be zero chance of him entering. Yet after Drew Steckenrider surrendered two runs and put the potential game-winner on second, it was up to Castillo escape a jam — and he did so in a monumental way in Sunday’s 8-7 win at Citi Field.
In a full count with the bases loaded, where a miss would have at the least tied the game, Castillo landed a slider past Pete Alonso, who could not check his swing. A delayed call from first-base umpire Chad Whitson had everyone on their toes, yet after the signal, the Mariners breathed a collective sigh of relief as crisis was averted and the 38,476 on hand at Citi Field were in uproar.
“It reminded me of the energy of a playoff game,” Castillo said through interpreter Sergio Romo. “That’s one thing that I relied on before. I like being in those situations. It’s something that I’ve been in before.”
Seattle survived and advanced to a huge series win against the Mets, who set a franchise record by winning each of their first 10 and entered the weekend with the best record in the National League. It was a one-run victory, the kind that Seattle specialized in with an MLB-high 33 such contests last year, and like many of those, this one came down to the final pitch.
The phone rang in a pinch, just after Steckenrider surrendered a single to Patrick Mazeika that bounced off J.P. Crawford’s glove. Castillo then rapidly warmed up and was installed moments later, after Brandon Nimmo doubled to make it a one-run game.
Castillo, who pitched in the 2020 World Series with the Rays, washed away thoughts of the nine runs he’d given up over his previous three outings.
“That’s something that happens to everybody in their career,” Castillo said. “It doesn’t always go well, but it’s just something that happens. I knew at one point, things would turn around.”
The meat of the Mets’ order featuring three All-Stars awaited, starting off with Starling Marte. Castillo’s strategy was simple: trust his best pitch — a slider that when on is elite, but when it’s not has been feasted on. He turned to it for each of his 13 offerings.
“I felt really, really good with it,” Castillo said of warming in the ‘pen. “That’s why I was so confident using it in the game.”
Castillo struck out Marte on three pitches for the second out, then manager Scott Servais opted to intentionally walk switch-hitter Francisco Lindor. Castillo is more comfortable against righties, but it set up a colossal matchup with Alonso, the two-time reigning Home Run Derby champion, with the bases loaded.
Back and forth they went, with Castillo finally getting Alonso on strike two with a pitch way outside, followed by ball three in the dirt, and finally, the decisive dagger for the check-swing K.
Catcher Cal Raleigh turned back and forth from home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt to Whitson at first base, then leaped in jubilation after the call.
“It was kind of like a standstill, and they called it, and I got all pumped up,” Raleigh said.
“Honestly, I was just thinking, let’s make a play,” Rodríguez said. “Just make a play, stay focused and after something happens, you can’t take that back. Just basically, you’ve got to move on to the next play. I was just locked in, ready for something if they hit it my way.”
And the Mariners escaped with their first series win since a sweep of the Royals from April 22-24.
The moments that led to it
• Rodríguez reached five times and had a career-high four hits, including his second career homer — a 114-mph shot off Chasen Shreve that he pulled a Statcast-projected 423 feet way beyond the left-field wall. In the seventh, he added what proved to be a critical insurance run with an RBI single that scored Winker.
• Robbie Ray looked like he might be on a fast track to an early exit in the fourth inning, when he gave up a single, walk, triple and another walk before recording his first out. In total, he threw 30 pitches and gave up four runs, but he was able to bounce back for 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth.
• Raleigh crushed a go-ahead, two-run shot that reached the Shea Bridge beyond both bullpens in right-center shortly after Rodríguez tied the game. The backstop had just one RBI this season to that point before unloading the 109.6 mph, 435-foot shot.