Frank Castillo delivered his pitches with control and velocity
CHICAGO (AP) _ Frank Castillo delivered his pitches with control and velocity, and for 8 2-3 innings, the St. Louis Cardinals couldn’t hit what he offered.
He’d never been better as a pitcher, and all Castillo needed Monday night was one measly little strike. Just one.
Then he let go of the one pitch he wanted to yank back, nearly as soon as it left his hand.
Bernard Gilkey lined the 2-2 fastball with two outs in the ninth inning to right-center. Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa made a dive, but missed. The ball went for a triple and Castillo had to settle for a one-hitter a 7-0 victory for the Chicago Cubs.
``I don’t know if it is a matter of losing concentration. Sometimes you try too hard and try to throw it as hard as you can,″ said Castillo, who became the fifth pitcher this season to lose a no-hitter in the last inning.
``It was one of those situations where you are so pumped up, and you get the ball up. I was hoping Sammy would catch it.″
Castillo tried some body language, hoping to help the ball into Sosa’s glove.
``I was telling myself, `Don’t get too excited, stay focused,‴ Castillo said. ``As soon as I threw it, I wanted it back. I figured I had him 2-2 and I’ll make the best pitch of the game. When I threw it, I was trying to throw it through a wall and got it up.″
After the hit, Castillo bent over and shook his head before regaining his composure and getting the final out.
``You get so close and get two strikes on a guy, that can be heartbreaking,″ he said.
``I’m looking at is as a positive, to come that close is something special. It’s a game I’ll always remember. Sammy gave a great effort. He almost came up with it.″
Castillo struck out a career-high 13, including the first two batters in the ninth. Then he got ahead 0-2 on Gilkey with fans _ and even veteran announcer Harry Caray _ on their feet for what could have been the last pitch. But Gilkey worked two balls and then sent the drive to right-center.
``I gave it everything I had,″ Sosa said. ``I was just playing to my left and he hit it in the perfect spot. If I could have been playing two steps to my right a little bit, I could have had it.
``It’s too bad to lose a no-hitter like that. All nine innings he was giving all he had. He threw a strike on a 2-2 pitch. That’s unbelievable, but that’s part of the game,″ Sosa said.
Castillo was trying to become the first Cubs pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Milt Pappas against San Diego on Sept. 2, 1972, which also was the last no-hitter at Wrigley Field.
``I thought it was going into the gap,″ Gilkey said. ``I saw Sammy closing in on it. I was rounding first and I was saying, `Don’t catch it.′ And then I saw it bounce by him. So, I was real happy. I felt like I beat a lot of people. Not only the pitcher out there who was going for a no-hitter, but everybody who was pulling for him.″
Ramon Martinez of Los Angeles has the only no-hitter this year, beating Florida 7-0 on July 14.
First baseman Mark Grace went to the mound to console Castillo (11-10), and the paid crowd of 18,298 remained on its feet applauding.
``I got the ball from the outfield and gave it to Frankie on the mound and saw it in his face and I started choking up, I almost wanted to cry,″ Grace said . ``That was a special game to play behind.″
Until Gilkey’s hit, the only Cardinals runners came on walks. Ray Lankford walked with two outs in the first, and Castillo retired the next 16 batters before walking Tripp Cromer with one out in the seventh.
The hardest ball the Cardinals hit before Gilkey was a liner by Lankford that shortstop Jose Hernandez caught to end the fourth. The closest the Cardinals had come to a hit was leading off the eighth, when Grace dived to his right for a grounder by John Mabry and threw from his knees to Castillo at first base.
The 26-year-old right-hander pitched his second complete game in 28 starts. He has two shutouts in his career, both this year. Last June 15, he pitched 6 1-3 perfect innings in a win over San Francisco.
Castillo’s previous career high for strikeouts was 10. His best low-hit game was a three-hitter on Aug. 27, 1991, against the Dodgers in a 2-1 victory.
As a minor leaguer with the Cubs in 1990, Castillo pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for Double-A Charlotte against Huntsville.
Other pitchers losing no-hitters in the last inning this year were Pedro Martinez of Montreal, David Cone, then with Toronto, Mike Morgan of St. Louis and Paul Wagner of Pittsburgh. Pedro Martinez lost a perfect game in the 10th, while Wagner had his no-hitter broken up by Andres Galarraga with two outs in the ninth.
The last Cubs pitcher to get so close to a no-hitter was Jose Guzman, who held Atlanta hitless for 8 2-3 innings on April 6, 1993 before Otis Nixon singled.
Castillo got all the support he needed in the first when Chicago scored four times against Alan Benes (0-2). Sosa and Luis Gonzalez had RBI singles.