If Luis Castillo’s tumultuous, injury-plagued tenure with the New York Mets were a famous painter’s body of work, consider the game-losing, bottom-of-the-ninth error he committed in shallow right field at Yankee Stadium on June 12, 2009 his magnum opus.
Castillo, who finished hitting .274 as a member of the Metropolitans (2007-2010), seldom had good days in New York. Appropriately, he was cut by the team on March 18, mercifully ending an era (or error) that had one season remaining on the four-year, $25 million pact the Dominican native signed after being traded from Minnesota in 2007.
Although the Mets are on the hook for the $6 million owed to Castillo in 2011, their fans are just happy that he finally got the hook.
For not a day goes by that they don’t remember their former second baseman backpedaling in shallow right, tracking a routine popup that should have sealed a series-opening win for the Mets, that instead bounced out of his glove, landed on the outfield grass and allowed Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira to score the tying and game-winning runs, respectively.
The 2011 Subway Series begins tonight in the Boogie Down, where the Yanks and Mets are scheduled to play three games this weekend. For that reason, it’s only right that we relive one of the most notorious . . . or glorious — depending on your perspective — moments in New York baseball history.
DETAILS, DETAILS . . .
It was game No. 1 of six the Yanks and Mets annually split between The Bronx and Queens, with the first three-game series taking place at Yankee Stadium, which, like Citi Field, was in its inaugural season.
Thus, the hype surrounding each new venue made the ’09 Subway Series more riveting than usual.
The Mets went into that fateful ninth inning with an 8-7 lead. Closer Francisco Rodriguez got Brett Gardner to pop out behind home plate for the first out, and Jeter singled up the middle and stole second as then Yankee Johnny Damon went down swinging for the second out.
The Mets’ manager at the time, Jerry Manuel, then had Rodriguez intentionally walk Teixeira to set up a matchup with Alex Rodriguez, who had hitherto managed one hit in 14 at-bats (.071) and struck out nine times vs. the four-time all-star closer.
Even as Francisco Rodriguez fell behind 3-1 in the count, he went right at the Bombers’ third baseman with a 94 mph fastball. Alex Rodriguez swung, and upon seeing the ball’s unpromising trajectory — a seemingly harmless popup to right — he slammed his bat down, undoubtably anticipating another negative outcome at the hands of his near-namesake, who once got the Yankees slugger to hit into a rally-killing, 5-6-3 double play in Game 5 of the 2005 ALDS as a member of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Halos won that game and series, which meant Alex Rodriguez’s frustration was rooted in past failures. Fortunately for the three-time AL MVP, while the animated closer got the best of him yet again, the Yankees were the New York team favored by the baseball gods that evening. And the messianic figure sent down by them was none other than Luis Castillo, the author of — in the view of the Flushing faithful — a cosmic catastrophe once he dropped that ball.
“I’m just so pissed at myself for popping that ball up; it’s all I’m thinking about,” Alex Rodriguez told reporters after the Yanks’ bizarre 9-8 victory. “And then, when you see Mark [Teixeira] flying around third, you’re just like, ‘Oh, my God. A gift from God, or … from Castillo.'”
Jeter scored, and Teixeira slid into home, easily beating a throw that was more a formality than threat, and the Yankees portion of 47,967 in attendance went into a schadenfreude-driven frenzy, while their Amazin’s counterparts fell into a state of painful disbelief.
The careers of the principals involved — Alex Rodriguez, Francisco Rodriguez and Castillo — have since gone in starkly different directions. Alex Rodriguez went on to have a huge 2009 postseason for the Yanks en route to a World Series title; Francisco Rodriguez was arrested for assaulting his father-in-law on Aug. 11, 2010; and Castillo could never escape the stigma of the play, which contributed to his eventual jettisoning in March.
Less than two weeks after being released by the Mets, the Philadelphia Phillies dropped Castillo from their roster as well. So far this season, he has not appeared in a Major League Baseball game.
Luis Castillo’s dropped ball will forever sear in the minds of Mets fans from Flushing to — if you believe in commercials — Istanbul, Turkey. Like Castillo, left-handed pitcher Oliver Perez was cut by the team this spring. Unlike Castillo, however, while Perez’s poor attitude and ineptitude on the mound may have led to many defeats, he never cost the Mets a victory in The Bronx.
Here’s the video of the play: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090613&content_id=5304386&vkey…