As a jumbo-sized nerd, I loved back to school time: the fresh fallen snow of a ream of crisp new paper, color-coded binders by subject (AP US History is red, of course, and geometry is obviously green), a set of fresh pens that have never known the grime of the bottom of a backpack. But back to school time was also a chance to reinvent myself, new classes with new people; a chance to make a good friend or, barring that, at least convince my new classmates I could pass for cool, or cool-adjacent. First impressions are a gift not to be taken lightly, and both the Mariners and Luis Castillo seemed intent on impressing each other early in the series finale at Yankee Stadium.
In addition to the left on base woes, my other major complaint about this offense has been not punishing struggling pitchers early, allowing them to get into a groove and cruise. Theoretically, you can’t win the game in the first inning, except today the Mariners basically did, punishing Gerrit Cole for a fugue state lack of command in the first. Today was a huge victory for the “stuff doesn’t matter if you can’t locate” crowd, as Cole’s stuff was vintage Cole nasty: 98-100 easily with a wicked slider; his 23 swing-and-misses currently lead all of baseball for today. But in that first inning, Cole couldn’t get a handle on his stuff. He walked Jesse Winker on five pitches, not particularly close, after allowing a leadoff base hit to Adam Frazier, who continues to heat up; he added another two hits today. Cole then tried to steal a first pitch strike against Eugenio Suárez, but left a 90 MPH slider right in the middle of the plate that Suárez, uh, did not miss:
That came off the bat at 109.4 MPH, making it currently the fourth-hardest hit ball in baseball today, behind sluggers Yordan Álvarez and Randy Arozarena.
Cole then proceeded to conduct a master class in how Not To Respond To Adversity, trying to buckled down against Carlos Santana but leaving 99 in the middle of the plate for Santana to rocket out of the yard. Okay, so the slider wasn’t working, and fastballs in the middle of the plate aren’t a good idea; how about the changeup?
Jarred Kelenic goes deep! The Mariners have hit three home runs off of Gerrit Cole in the first inning to make it 6-0! pic.twitter.com/YmzX5UUXWa— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) August 3, 2022
Gerrit my man, the problem is not the pitches, the problem is the location. That actually was a two-run home run as J.P. Crawford had reached on a single, lining a knuckle curve oppo, which gave the Mariners a hit on every one of Cole’s various pitches during this inning. Eventually, Sam Haggerty, the ninth man to the plate, grounded out to end the inning, and Cole settled down over the next five innings, pitching like his usual ace self as he racked up eight strikeouts and didn’t issue another walk nor give up another run. He actually came a pitch shy of an immaculate inning at one point. Unfortunately for Cole and the Yankees, the Mariners had their own ace going today, and he was doing so with a career-first six-run lead before he ever set foot on the mound.
Much has been made on social media of the Mariners’ “overpay” for Luis Castillo, and the prospect cost was undeniably steep, but it wasn’t an overpay, since there’s no such thing as an overpay in a trade market, just what a team is willing to pay. The Yankees balked on Castillo because they didn’t want to part with their prized shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe; the Mariners were willing to build a package around both Noelvi Marte and Edwin Arroyo. It’s the riskiest trade we’ve seen from Jerry Dipoto, in that it has the highest possibility of looking like a major loss a couple years down the road if one or both of Marte and Arroyo develop into stars, but today’s game explained the willingness to pay such a premium as it underscored the importance of what acquiring an ace-level pitcher like Castillo does for the Mariners. All of this starts with the offense taking advantage of Cole’s command taking a powder for an inning, but it ends with Luis Castillo going toe-to-toe, ace-to-ace with Cole, making sure the Yankees offense didn’t have a chance to come back in this game even as Cole found his command.
Things didn’t start out smoothly, exactly, as Castillo had to fight both his command and the Abstract Expressionist painting known as home plate umpire CB Bucknor’s strike zone; it took him 17 pitches, with just 10 strikes, to clear the first inning, and he needed an assist from an excellent charging play by J.P. to keep the ever-pesky DJ LeMahieu off the bases and well as work around a double from Matt Carpenter. The second inning was much the same, with Castillo opening with a walk to Andrew Benintendi beofre collecting his first strikeout as a Mariner, absolutely obliterating Gleyber Torres on three pitches, all at 98-99 MPH:
Luis Castillo's first strikeout as a Mariner: 98 at the top of the zone pic.twitter.com/SB17DzGCsN— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 3, 2022
After getting Aaron Hicks to ground out on a pitch that registered at 100 MPH, Isiah Kiner-Falefa managed to fight off 98 from Castillo and punch it into center field, scoring Benintendi, who had swiped second. Castillo then got bailed out by his defense again after surrendering a double, again on a fastball that caught too much of the plate, to Kyle Higashioka, but Jesse and JP said NOPE:
Maybe he was emboldened by the quality of defense playing behind him, but after that inning, Castillo got in the zone more and started attacking hitters early in the count. In the first two innings he threw first-pitch strikes to just four of nine batters faced; in the next two innings that number went up to four of six as he also racked up four of his strikeouts on the day over innings three and four, including his first Mariners strikeout on the non-fastball, this beauty of a slider to Rizzo:
While the Mariners offense scuffled against a resurgent Cole, Castillo did what a frontline pitcher is supposed to do and kept the powerful Yankees offense in line. He had to work around a couple of walks—one that was his fault, a four-pitch walk of DJ LeMahieu in the the fifth, and one in the sixth that was not his fault but a result of two blown calls by CB Bucknor in a very rough at-bat with Matt Carpenter—and seemed to be tiring some in the seventh, where his front shoulder started flying open on some of his changeups and it looked like he just wasn’t finishing his pitches. Castillo battled for his eighth strikeout of the day against Aaron Hicks, getting him looking on a well-spotted slider, but it took seven pitches. He then surrendered a hard-hit ground ball that smoked past Carlos Santana off the bat of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and made a poor first-pitch slider to Kyle Higashioka that got walloped into the seats, Higashioka’s second extra-base hit of the day off Castillo, cutting the Mariners lead to 7-3 and making this little insurance solo home run by Jesse Winker that had happened at the top of the inning all the more important.
That ended Castillo’s day at 6.2 innings—a light day for the workhorse, who regularly works into the seventh and throws over 100 pitches, to which I gently suggest: what if not? What if he just does not do that. Because the Mariners have a pretty good bullpen, as demonstrated today: Ryan Borucki tidied up the back of the seventh, Matt Festa worked another scoreless inning in front of friends and family in his hometown (#gabagoolpower), and Paul Sewald— who the Yankees broadcast was very salty about seeing in a non-save situation, suggesting that “Servais must really want to win this game” (??? Yes??? He wants??? That??)—closed out the ninth like he had a margarita and a binge session of The Bear waiting for him on the plane ride home.
It was fun to watch Castillo laughing and smiling with his new (and old!) teammates in the dugout, shaking hands with Servais, and appreciating the fine defense behind him, like this play where J.P. was clearly showing off for the new guy.
Ah, the honeymoon phase of a new relationship where you’re both trying to impress each other. Today everyone showed up and showed out like it was the first day of school, replete with fresh outfits and some shiny Gold Glove defense and teammates, new and old, starting something new and cool together. It will be fun to see what it’s like when the kids come home from their field trip to the big city and we get to see them all build that cool thing together, right in front of our eyes.