Orioles catcher Welington Castillo provides Dominican with late-inning heroics in WBC win over Colombia
In a Dominican Republic lineup full of All Stars, new Orioles catcher Welington Castillo can easily go overlooked, but his play at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday at Marlins Park might have been the biggest play of the tournament so far.
One thing is for sure. It saved the Dominican from an upset loss to Colombia that would have put a wrench into the baseball hotbed's drive for a second straight World Baseball Classic championship.
Instead, Castillo's catch and tag of Colombia pinch runner Oscar Mercado – a play that sent the Dominican's final pool play game into extra innings, where the Dominican ultimately prevailed 10-3 after 11th inning– will be one they will talk about in the Dominican for years.
The highlight of his baseball career? "I think so," Castillo said. "I hope there are more coming, too."
For three games in Miami this weekend, Castillo was a workhorse behind the plate, catching every single inning – 29 frames in four days – contributing with his bat and making two crucial late-inning defensive plays in the Dominican's pool-play finale against Colombia.
No play was bigger than in the bottom of the ninth. Colombia orchestrated a late-inning comeback – much like the one the Dominicans laid on Team USA on Saturday night – and it had the game-winning run just 90 feet away at third base with one out in the ninth.
Colombia first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez rocketed a line drive to left. But the ball was right to Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, and he uncorked an accurate throw that hopped twice, once right in front of Castillo, who went up to baseline to catch the ball, secured it in hit mitt with his right hand as he made contact with Mercado sliding to his left side.
Castillo emerged from the play pulling the ball out of his glove to show to home plate umpire Dan Iassogna, who called Mercado out, prompting an argument at home plate that resulted in two Colombia ejections. Meanwhile, Castillo celebrated from his knees, pumping his arm multiple times in elation.
"It's a do or die [situation]," Castillo said. "If I don't make that play, they're going to win. That's why it's one of those plays where you've got to go for it and not just let them win. … I went for the ball and I didn't care about the runner. I just went down the line to get the throw. … Everything happens so fast that you can't worry about too many things. You've just got to go for the ball and that's what I did.
"I was in a good position," Castillo added. "The hardest part was the contact. I didn't know if he was going to go on top of me or if he was going to slide. You never know what the runner is going to do. You just have to for the ball and try to hold it and hope he doesn't hit you hard and you go down and the ball comes out. That's all that matters. … I think he tagged me. He slid right into me, so I just held the ball up."
The Dominican Republic won its 11th straight WBC game on Sunday, claiming Pool C in Miami by winning all three games. They now advance to the tournament's second round, which begins Tuesday at PETCO Park in San Diego.
Castillo also contributed with his bat. Once new WBC rules placed baserunners at second and third to open the 11th inning, the Dominican Republic needed just one big hit, and in a lineup full of All-Star bats, it was Castillo who came through in the clutch.
With the bases loaded with out in the inning – Colombia walked Gregory Polanco with first base open to face Castillo – the new Orioles catcher laced a two-run single into left-center field, sparking a seven-run inning.
"I just set my mind that they're not going to pitch to Polanco, so I just prepared mentally and told myself to just not try to do too much," Castillo said. "I got a good pitch and hit it hard to the middle, so I just got a good pitch, and thank God I did a good job."
Castillo ended pool play with five RBIs in the three games here in Miami. He hit a two-run homer in the Dominican's win over Canada on Thursday and hit an RBI double in its 7-5 comeback win over Team USA on Saturday night. He was 0-for-3 with a walk Sunday before stepping to the plate in the 11th.
Castillo also squashed a potential Colombia rally in the seventh, throwing out center fielder Tito Polo, who was attempting to steal second base.
Castillo's performance offered Orioles third baseman Manny Machado – who had his own starring moments this weekend playing for the Dominican – a glimpse of what an addition Castillo could be.
"I'm looking forward to having him in Baltimore," Machado said. "He's doing an incredible job with our pitching staff and our team. It's been fun watching him play finally in some meaningful games and I'm looking forward to him having a good year."
In the days leading up to his departure from Orioles camp for the World Baseball Classic, Castillo admitted how torn he was about leaving his new team for an extended amount of time.
He gave his word he'd play for the Dominican Republic back in November. That was before he knew he would be non-tendered, become a free-agent, sign with the Orioles and have to learn the ins and outs of a new team and pitching staff.
"[There's] not going to be any doubt," Castillo said about honoring his commitment to play for the Dominican. "It's not because of the way we played or [the way] I've been playing. I made the decision way before I got to the Baltimore Orioles and I'm always open to representing my country."