Castillo's passion, performance carry Pirates

New shortstop supports Snell's gem in 8-1 rout of Texas

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Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Pirates pitcher Ian Snell puts down a sacrifice bunt to set up a run in the second inning against the Rangers.
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A few hours before the Pirates took the field at PNC Park, Jose Castillo heard a rather inspirational slice of advice from a trusted mentor.

"You've got to show every game that you belong out there," injured reliever Salomon Torres told him. "Your status is day by day. If you don't do well, you're out."

And that, perhaps, best explains the palpable passion with which Castillo, suddenly and stunningly the Pirates' shortstop in place of Jack Wilson, helped author an 8-1 annihilation of the Texas Rangers last night ...

That was Castillo, going the other way -- his strongest suit as a hitter -- with a single in the second inning, then scoring on Jose Bautista's ball up the middle for a 3-0 lead.

That was Castillo making maybe the hardest throw of the evening -- pitchers included -- on his relay of a 1-6-3 double play.

That was Castillo drilling an RBI double to the North Side Notch in the fifth, scoring Xavier Nady from first and putting the Pirates ahead, 5-0.

And yes, that was Castillo, silent bordering on sullen all season because of inactivity, pumping his fists repeatedly at second base after that hit, prompting the crowd of 16,110 to cheer louder and louder with each gesture.

"I was having fun," Castillo explained without apology. "I'm working hard. I'm feeling good. That felt good."

It was a rare show of emotion for these Pirates, so often lifeless in this fairly nondescript season. And it might have wound up a bit lost amid Ian Snell's first career complete game, Bautista falling just a home run shy of the cycle and the team closing in on a three-game sweep.

But there was no one on the home side who failed to notice.

"Jose Castillo is a great baseball player, and he's got a great heart," Bautista said. "You've got to have some of that hot blood running through your body when you do something good for your team. And you know what? It's definitely great for all of us to see that."

It was not more important, obviously, than the production: Castillo wound up 2 for 3 with a double, a nine-pitch walk -- yes, really -- two runs and an RBI.

"He was good," manager Jim Tracy said. "Really good."

In three games since taking Wilson's spot, Castillo is 5 for 10 with three doubles and three RBIs.

Oh, and that double play?

The Pirates were up, 3-0, in the Texas third when the Rangers had runners at the corners and one out. Cleanup man Marlon Byrd bounced a comebacker to Snell, who turned toward Castillo at second and threw something of a changeup that risked ruining all timing involved.

"It came out of my hand funny," Snell said.

What came out of Castillo's hand was no joke. Seeing that Byrd was closing in on first base and aware a run was about to score, he unleashed a ferocious relay that looked as if it would tear through first baseman Adam LaRoche's mitt.

Just in time.

"Shades of Rafael Furcal," LaRoche said. "The kid can bring it."

Thing is, this kid always has been able to bring it.

From the time he arrived in the majors as a 23-year-old who bypassed Class AAA, no one has questioned his talent. But inconsistencies, inattentiveness and a perceived unwillingness to think team first set him back to the point he was little more than an afterthought in this season's first two-plus months.

As Tracy put it yesterday, "This is something we've been searching for in Jose Castillo since April 2006."

Could the long benching play a role in his revival?

And, if it does, will it last?

Only Castillo can answer those, obviously, and only in a much longer term. The player who has 19 hits in his past 56 at-bats is the same one who opened the year 1 for 17.

For now ...

"I'm here, and I'm ready," he said. "I know I have my opportunity."

Snell's complete game came with a typically seamless performance. The run he allowed was unearned, and the rest of his line included seven strikeouts, seven hits and two walks. And he went the distance on just 105 pitches, 70 for strikes.

"It's just what Ian's been doing all season," Tracy said.

Bautista, now .329 as the leadoff man, had a second big night against Texas: He had the RBI single, he doubled, he drilled a two-run triple to deep center in the fifth that made it 8-0, he walked and he scored two runs. His line for the series: 6 for 9 with five extra-base hits.

More good defense, too.

"I can't say enough about the job he's doing," Tracy said.

Other offensive standouts: Freddy Sanchez had an RBI double in the first and a sacrifice fly in the fourth, Chris Duffy singled twice with an RBI and, lest it be overlooked in the No. 9 spot, Snell put down two sacrifice bunts that led to runs and scored after drawing a walk.

"I liked our approaches" Tracy said. "Those are the kinds of at-bats you take when you become a solid club, a winning club."

Of course, those also are the at-bats many teams tend to take against the lowly Rangers, whose rotation is on pace to have the highest ERA in Major League Baseball history.

In this one, Robinson Tejeda lasted four innings and gave up four runs.

Tonight, it is Kameron Loe, owner of a 7.40 ERA.

Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Pirates' Jose Castillo leaps over the Rangers' Frank Catalanotto on a double play in the third inning last night at PNC Park.
Click photo for larger image.

Game: Pirates (LHP Tom Gorzelanny 6-3, 2.76) vs. Texas Rangers (RHP Kameron Loe 1-6, 7.40), 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Key matchup: Gorzelanny vs. the world. He easily could have 10 victories, having seen four leads he turned over to the bullpen get squandered.

Of note: The Pirates are 8-0 against teams from Texas this season, including their six victories against the Houston Astros.

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Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at .


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