Miami Marlins

He had been out of MLB for a decade. His first game back: A crucial hit for the Marlins

The script probably could not have been written any better.

Catcher Wilkin Castillo, playing in his first MLB game in a decade, rebounded from striking out in his first two at-bats to hit a go-ahead, two-out, two-RBI double in the seventh inning Saturday to lift the Miami Marlins to a 5-3, series-clinching win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Welcome back to the big leagues, Castillo.

“It’s something indescribable,” the 35-year-old Castillo said through a translator. “It’s a lot of effort. Just being out, playing winter ball, Dominican League, Mexican League and minor-league for so many years — 10 years — and then just being up here and seeing things happening. I thank God. I thank the Marlins for giving me the opportunity to be here on the Major League level.”

How rare is it to go 10 years between MLB games? Well, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Castillo’s gap is the longest between Major League games since infielder Jim Baumer went 11 years and 191 days between appearances from Oct. 2, 1949, to April 11, 1961.

But considering Castillo had a hit and RBI in his last MLB game — a pinch-hit two-run double for the Cincinnati Reds on June 20, 2009, against the Chicago White Sox — did on Saturday

According to Elias, Castillo:

Is the first player in MLB history to have an RBI streak span 10-plus years.

Is the first player to go 10-plus years between RBI since Jerome Williams went 10 years, 347 days (Sept. 11, 2003 to Aug. 24, 2014).

Is the first player to have a hitting streak spanning 10-plus years since Roy Schalk (four-game hit streak from Sept. 17, 1932 to April 19, 1944).

Castillo doesn’t remember much about that last MLB game — a 10-8 White Sox win — other than feeling his right shoulder pop after hitting a line drive over the center fielder’s head.

He’ll remember Saturday.

“It’s been a long, long time since 2009,” Castillo said. “It feels great. The support from all the guys, it’s a great feeling just to be back here.”

Castillo’s hit on Saturday capped a three-hit, three-run rally for the Marlins (29-46) after being held to one hit and two walks through the first six innings of the game. Garrett Cooper led off the frame with a walk to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 18 games. Brian Anderson and Starlin Castro followed with back-to-back singles to bring Cooper home and put runners on the corners. A Cesar Puello fielder’s choice and JT Riddle popup brought Castillo to the plate.

After striking out in his first two at-bats, the 6-0, 215-pound catcher ripped the first pitch he saw from reliever Edubary Ramos 327 feet to the right-field wall to bring home both baserunners. The Marlins held the lead the rest of the way.

“I’m really happy for Wilkin,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “There’s a lot of guys out there that get a taste [of the Majors], then something happens and they’re trying to fight their way back. It tells you a lot about guys when they hang in there. That’s a long time to be playing Minor League baseball and trying to fight your way back.”

In between Saturday and his last game back in 2009, Castillo had stints in the minor leagues with six MLB teams, three Mexican Baseball League teams and one year in the independent Atlantic League before signing a minor-league contract with the Marlins this offseason.

The Marlins selected his contract and called him up to the big-league club on Friday after placing Jorge Alfaro on the seven-day concussion injured list. He played 31 games for Triple A New Orleans before the call up, posting a .253 batting average with six RBI, two home runs and 12 runs scored over 99 at-bats.

It took Castillo a moment to soak in the fact that he had made it back.

“I don’t know if it was nervous but I felt weird,” Castillo said. “It was something about my body just being there and seeing the whole scenario, but after we pitched the first batter I started feeling more comfortable for everything in the game.”

It helped, he said, that Elieser Hernandez was on the mound, which was something Mattingly factored in when making the lineup. Castillo caught Hernandez four times in Triple A New Orleans this season. The only thing different about it the fifth time was the venue.

“When you feel comfortable with the pitcher,” Castillo said, “it helps.”

Hernandez, making his third start with the Marlins year, held the Phillies (39-37) to three earned runs on five hits — including back-to-back solo home runs from Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins in the third — and two walks while striking out six.

The bullpen threw four scoreless innings of relief against the Phillies, who have lost six consecutive games, to seal the series-clinching win. Jose Quijada recorded the first save of his MLB career by recording the final two outs, none bigger than getting Cesar Hernandez to pop out with the bases loaded for the final out.

JT Riddle hit a solo home run in the third and Anderson hit an RBI single in the eighth to bookend the Marlins’ scoring.

But Saturday will always be tied to Castillo and his improbable moment in his improbable return to Major League Baseball.

“You love seeing those guys get opportunities, because you know the road they’ve been on,” Mattingly said. “Even though you haven’t been there every step of the way, you know it’s been a road that’s a lot of bus trips, a lot of Spring Trainings, a lot of work. He’s just put in a ton of work to get back.”

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.
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