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Joke of the Week: Luis Castillo keeps it loose

A little relief for the miserable, the lonely, and depressed

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Disney is in a creative crisis. Only a fool would deny the MCU’s popularity, but if you told me those paint-by-numbers cash grabs had been AI-generated this whole time, I’d believe you. The Star Wars TV shows have at least brought that franchise a little more thematic diversity than the MCU, but it’s still built around IP established half a century ago. The movies they’re willing to admit are for children aren’t in much better shape as they churn out “live action” remakes that are ironically more lifeless than the animated versions. Even Pixar, which used to reliably create spectacular new worlds every year, hasn’t executed an interesting idea since Inside Out (ymmv on Coco). The most original thing the Mouse House has done lately, the Get Back docuseries, was created using footage from 1969, recontextualizing, but fundamentally retelling, one of the most famous stories in music history.

Even the Disney Baseball Franchise is like this. The premise of this mega-viral baseball tweet is that every Angels game is the same.

All of which is a roundabout windup to underscore the irony that it was Anaheim, of all teams, that snapped the Mariners out of their own creative rut.

Friday night’s game featured the first time that the Mariners had ever gotten to Shohei Ohtani (pitcher version). In their four previous attempts, they’d struck out eight times twice and ten times twice, with a combined total of two walks and five runs over 26 innings. But this time, they’d buckled down and forced him to throw them good pitches. They drew five walks to just six strikeouts and chased him after only five innings having scored three runs.

For his part, the Mariners starter shoved; this was Luis Castillo’s fourth great outing in a row. He struck out ten to just one walk and six hits, atypically not needing much more than his four-seamer to do it.

But despite the offense getting to Ohtani and Castillo pitching well, by the time the starters left the game, the score was 5-3 Angels. The reason is that despite most things going well, two things that almost always go right went wrong. The crucial sequence came in the third inning. With two outs and Taylor Ward up, Castillo got what every pitcher wants to see, a routine ground ball to J.P. Crawford.

Oops. Instead of ending the inning, that brought up Shohei Ohtani (hitter version), and Castillo made one of his only mistakes. I’ll spare you embedding the clip, but suffice it to say, the ball went 440 feet and tied the game.

Later on, Ohtani got his third hit off Castillo (half of Castillo’s total), a 112-mph double that put runners on second and third and brought Mike Trout into the box. Castillo won the battle with a strikeout to end the inning. I breathed a sigh of relief at ending the threat, and striking out Mike Trout will always put you in contention for Play of the Week. But it was what happened next that sealed the deal.

This moment helped me realize how much I’d needed this game. The cornerstone of Marinerdom, the one constant through all the years, has been the team’s ability to find new and interesting ways to lose. Much of what I’ve found so frustrating about the 2023 iteration has been the monotony of the losses. It’s too many strikeouts, too many runners left on base, too many balls dying on the warning track, too many hot line drives hit directly at infielders, and a big missing piece in the lineup. The pitching has generally been outstanding, and somehow allowing just two runs hasn’t been enough. Except when the pitching hasn’t been enough and the Mariners’ great pitchers get inexplicably torched—the only other kinds of losses have been the recent stretch of blowouts.

But not this game. This game, Castillo pitched well and the offense had its best performance against one of the game’s best pitchers. They still lost, with the key moment being an error from one of the surest hands in the game and the team’s best pitcher making one of his only mistakes. That’s fresh, different, and so, in its way, exciting. They lost, but at least it’s a new and interesting way to lose.

Much of the discourse around Castillo’s gesture misunderstands what he’s doing. A lot of people seem to think he’s gloating and think it’s absurd to stare down Ohtani because Ohtani had owned him all night. Those people don’t realize that the absurdity is the point. He’s being ironic. “Yes, I got Mike Trout, got out of a jam, and am generally pitching very well tonight. But you—you got me. Why can’t I get you out?” The sheepish smile is what gives the joke away for anyone who can’t read the subtlety.

And, to me, that ability to laugh at himself is as valuable as his four-seamer. You might not be ready to laugh at the 2023 Mariners yet, and that’s fine. But speaking for myself, I needed the reminder that losing can still be silly. There’s plenty of season left, and the Mariners might turn this thing around; 18% playoff odds is hardly nothing. But, for me, too much of this year’s losing had been tense and aggravating. A few weeks ago, Julio had the Play of the Week for keeping it fun even though he was struggling, but he kept it fun by laughing at doing something well. Turns out that I need Acuña’s side of that moment too. I needed Luis Castillo’s reminder to loosen up a little.

Baseball isn’t mandatory; if you don’t enjoy the product, don’t consume it. I can’t control this team; I can only control how I react, etc., etc. I knew the cliches of course, but watching this moment put me back in a headspace where I could really enjoy Saturday’s win, rather than clenching my way through it. I wasn’t stressed out during Sunday’s shellacking. If Luis Castillo can see the humor in the situation without losing the desire to win, then so can I. His little gesture proves the point Disney made back in their more creative days:

Honorable Mentions

J.P. Works a Crucial Walk

I threw him under the bus a little in making his rare error a crucial part of Play of the Week, so J.P. gets the first honorable mention this week, for this excellent plate appearance on Tuesday. After falling behind 0-2 with two outs, J.P. forced Joe Musgrove to throw five more pitches, resulting in this fulcrum walk. He’d come around to score, and extending the inning helped the Mariners bounce Musgrove after five innings, a key to winning the game.

Luis, Cal, and J.P. Strike Him Out, Throw Him Out

This one’s a little sloppy around the edges, but the SHOTHODP is my favorite play in baseball, so it’ll be here every time the Mariners do it.

Julio Sends One to the Rock Pile

I spent too long on Statcast determining that Mike Trout has sent 10 Mariners pitches into the Rock Pile (the first time was off Félix). It sure seems like more though. So it was nice to see the Mariners’ star do it for once. One closes their eyes and imagines a future changing of the guard.

Andrés Muñoz Is Back

I was well aware of how good Andrés Muñoz is, but I did not appreciate how much better this team feels with him on it. Plowing through the heart of the Angels order, striking out Ohtani, Trout, and Rendon in a row was maybe more impressive than this, but I just love a whiff on a middle-middle fastball.

AJ Pollock Shows He’s Still Got It

Hey! An AJ Pollock sighting in Play of the Week! Good for him.

Bryan Woo Gets Trout Too

There have been bumps, as you’d expect for someone called up due to injury rather than forcing his way into the opportunity. But through two starts, against decent offenses, Bryan Woo has gotten 18 whiffs on 67 swings. That’s better than the league average for starters. Kid’s got a future.