ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It all felt familiar for Diego Castillo — the artificial light coming down, the feel of the pitcher’s mound, the sound of cowbells mostly being rung by Rays employees, the sparse collection of fans dotting the stands and the pressure-filled need for three outs to close a win.
But for the first time in his career, he stood on the mound of Tropicana Field, a place he’d called home for the past four seasons, trying to close out a win against a team that signed him out of tryout camp in the Dominican Republic, groomed him through the minor leagues and helped him grow into a late-inning force.
Facing players who were his teammates less than a week ago, Castillo entered the game with a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to lock up another win over the Rays for his new team. Admittedly, pumped up and excited, he retired pinch-hitter Brett Phillips with his first pitch on a ground ball to second. He struck out Brandon Lowe on three pitches. But a walk to Ji-Man Choi brought Joey Wendle to the plate as the tying run. He got Wendle to groundout to end the game and secure the Mariners’ 4-2 victory.
It was Seattle’s sixth consecutive win over Tampa Bay this season. The Mariners can sweep the seven-game season series Wednesday afternoon.
While opening the road trip with a series loss to a bad Rangers team on a pair of walk-off losses, the Mariners (58-50) have bounced back with a series win over the American League East leaders.
“So proud of this group, and I have been here all year,” manager Scott Servais said. “We don’t quit. We just keep playing baseball. And I keep saying to the point of nausea, the fact that they love to compete — every one of these guys. And that’s what it’s about, even when it’s not going their way. We lose a couple of tough ones in Texas. Well, we will show up, we will compete and see where it takes us.”
In his second appearance since joining the Mariners, Castillo gave up a walk-off homer in one of those losses in Texas. Servais couldn’t wait to get him back out there again.
“Anytime a newly acquired player like that struggles, you want to get them back out there,” he said. “But it is really hard to play against your old team the first time. It really is. There’s something just different about it.”
For Castillo, it was his 15th career save at the Trop, but his first in a uniform other than the Rays.
“I was a little bit excited and leaving some of my pitches up in the zone,” he said through an interpreter. “But I made an adjustment and everything went well.”
After admitting he was surprised and saddened to be traded away, he has accepted his new situation and is embracing his new team.
“The Seattle Mariners are my home, and I’m not going to think about anyone else other than the Mariners,” he said.
The Mariners got another solid outing from lefty Yusei Kikuchi, who shrugged off a regrettable first pitch of the game and provided his 13th quality start (six-plus innings pitched, three runs or fewer allowed) in 20 outings this season.
He wasn’t quite as dominant compared to past outings with all of his pitches down a few ticks in velocity, but he allowed just two runs (one earned) on six hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
“I didn’t feel like I had my absolute best stuff tonight, but I was able to make big pitches in big situation, especially with my breaking ball and my secondary stuff,” Kikuchi said through an interpreter. “And Cal (Raleigh) did a great job of calling a great game.”
Kikuchi’s first pitch of the game a “get-it-over” 91-mph fastball wasn’t taken for a complimentary strike. Nope, Randy Arozarena ambushed the pitch down the middle, sending his 16th homer deep into the left field seats.
He gave up a hard single to Wander Franco two pitches later. It looked like he might be in serious trouble when Nelson Cruz hammered a hard ground ball down the third baseline. But Kyle Seager, Cruz’s self-proclaimed “best friend,” made a difficult backhanded stop and threw off balance to second base where Abraham Toro was waiting to step on the bag and use his plus-throwing arm to fire to first for a double play. Instead of a 2-0 deficit and a runner on second, Kikuchi had the bases empty and two outs.
“It was a big momentum shifter early in the game,” Kikuchi said.
Seager made a difficult play look routine and almost easy.
“He does make it look easy,” Servais said. “This guy’s played great third base his whole career. Part of it is, he works at it. All of our guys do. They’re out there early. They’re practicing all those plays. That was a perfect feed to second base. It’s the only way you turn that double play. Yeah, Nellie’s running and he’s not the fastest guy in the world, but that’s totally around the horn. You’ve got to be very accurate with those throws.”
Kikuchi retired nine of the next 10 batters he faced after the double play.
Meanwhile the Mariners hitters got that first run back, making young right-hander Luis Patino work for every out in his brief pitch-filled outing. The 21-year-old, who started a game and made a relief appearance against Seattle as a member of the Padres, was anything but efficient early.
He needed 22 pitches to get through the first inning scoreless. It took Patino another 28 pitches to finish a second inning where he allowed a lead-off double by Jake Fraley, who came around to score on a deep sac fly from Raleigh to tie the game at 1-1.
The Mariners took the lead for good in the fourth inning. Toro continued his torrid start as a Mariner, jumping on a loopy first-pitch curveball from Patino and redirecting it into the right field stands with a 105 mph exit velocity for his 10th hit and third homer in his first seven games with the team.
“I was looking for a curveball first pitch,” Toro said. “He threw me one on the first pitch in my first at-bat.”
The blast measured 430 feet. Toro, who has reached base in every game with Seattle, finished with two hits on the night. He has 11 hits in 25 at-bats since joining the Mariners (.444) with three doubles, three homers, five RBI and eight runs scored.
But the Mariners weren’t through.
After driving a ball to deep right field for an out in his first at-bat, rookie Jarred Kelenic hammered a 1-0 fastball over the fence in dead center for his fourth homer of the season that made it 3-1.
Tampa picked up its other run against Kikuchi with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, cutting the lead to 3-2. Austin Meadows singled and scored from first base on Manuel Margot’s single into the corner that Fraley misplayed for an error.
Seattle added a big insurance run in the sixth inning thanks to a pair of Rays errors. Toro led with a single off lefty Ryan Sheriff. He advanced to second on Joey Wendle’s throwing error to first base on a ground ball from Fraley. He later scored on a dropped throw to second for a force out and potential double play.