In my mind, there’s a difference between a good pitcher and an ace.
A good pitcher is someone you want on the mound. When you’re scanning the upcoming pitching probables, he’s a name that you’re happy to see. He’s got a pretty dang good pitch, and a few decent secondaries, he can give you five or six solid innings, and he’ll put you in a good enough spot to win.
But that’s the thing — he’s good, not great.
An ace, now that is a thing to behold. Think King Félix Hernández, taking the mound every five games to his own cheering section. Remember the confidence you had when the King was in? Remember that streak of “ultra-quality starts” (7+ IP, <2 ER allowed) that he went on? Remember how other players would talk about Félix’s changeup? He was a god among men, and his star shone as brightly as you can imagine.
When I think about the difference between a good pitcher and an ace, I also think about a couple trades the Mariners made in the late-00s. Both names might haunt you for different reasons, whether it’s what we gave up to get one or what we got in return for the other. I’m thinking, of course, about Érik Bédard and Cliff Lee.
Bedard may have been a top-5 Cy Young guy in 2007, but with the Mariners, he was good, not great. When healthy, he’d give you five or six innings (just two of his 15 starts in 2009, and four of his 15 starts in 2008, lasted 7+ innings), and he’d nibble around the corners to put the M’s in a good place to win.
Lee, however...Cliff Lee was built different. He only made 13 starts with the Mariners, but 12 of those were 7+ innings. At one point, he ran off three consecutive complete games, allowing a combined four earned runs across those starts. He walked five batters in 95.2 innings! When Cliff Lee was pitching, nobody moved a muscle.
All that brings me to Luis Castillo.
Luis Castillo is a baaaaaad dude. pic.twitter.com/uHScL9a8uY— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) August 10, 2022
Castillo has pitched in one playoff game before, but it came in 2020. There were no fans in the stands, no roars of the crowd, no energy to feed on. So when he took the mound last night, with 38,804 fans on hand, to face the Yankees for the third time in his last four starts, he knew it was a special occasion.
“The fans were excellent, yelling on every pitch, every out, every inning, the fans were amazing.” -Luis Castillo on the atmosphere at T-Mobile tonight— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 10, 2022
There are a million ways to describe the electricity with which Castillo threw last night, and yet none of them do him justice. Inning after inning, pitch after pitch, the Dominican righty matched five-time All-Star Gerrit Cole.
Castillo threw heat...
Luis Castillo, Mean 98mph Sinker. pic.twitter.com/dY0BO7PkgS— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 10, 2022
...and a little bit of off-speed, too...
We've got an ace-off in Seattle— Just Baseball (@JustBBMedia) August 10, 2022
Luis Castillo and Gerrit Cole are both carving tonight with just filthy stuff like this slider from Castillo. They're both scoreless through seven innings! pic.twitter.com/R2DJ0wxWjN
Sure, the bullpen has been awesome all season, but those guys won’t complain about a starter going deep into a ballgame. Castillo threw eight rockin’ innings, 110 pitches of pure filth, and the whole stadium knew it. He put the Mariners on his back and gave them a fighting chance to win, in a situation where every win matters immensely.
Put simply, Castillo was that dude. He was a true ace last night, the first the Mariners have seen since Félix abdicated his throne. We’ve got him for this stretch run, for next season, and hopefully much, much longer. Luis Castillo is a special player and we are all witnesses.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go crash.