Starlin Castro is earning himself a new nickname: Mr. Walk-Off.
The shortstop played game-winning hero for the second night in a row Sunday, capping the Cubs’ 2-1 victory with a basehit into the left-center field gap to plate Chris Coghlan in the 11th inning of yet another walk-off win at Wrigley Field.
Before the game, teammates talked about how clutch Castro is. Sunday night, he showed it again. He picked up his third walk-off hit of the season. The Cubs have won a majors-leading eight games via the walk-off hit.
Celebrations are becoming commonplace on the Wrigley infield.
“I love the way our team battled, and it’s just getting to be our signature, just never giving up, never quitting and battling right to the end,” Cubs catcher David Ross said. “And it’s easy to sleep at night when you do that.”
It’ll be sweet dreams for Castro, who came up with one clutch hit after another during this series with the visiting Reds. Friday night, he smacked a two-run, game-tying homer in the sixth inning of what ended up being an extra-inning loss. Saturday and Sunday, he broke late-night stalemates with game-finishing hits.
It’s a series of redemptive knocks for a player who’s often been the target of fan frustration. This weekend, those boos were replaced by cheers heard through the hand claps of “Go Cubs Go.”
“Because he’s been around a little while, people may pick on him a little bit more because they kind of expect more out of him. He’s still learning,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I talk to him a lot. His entire game, he’s learning and he’s listening. It’s not like he thinks he knows it all. Believe me, he does not even come across that way one bit. He knows he’s got a lot to learn. He listens, he asks good questions. His work is spectacular. So understand he’ll just keep getting better. He’s an easy target, he’s got a big target on his back. But he handles it great.”
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Castro went 3-for-5 on Sunday night, and his game-clinching RBI was his fifth in the last three games.
But aside from just his heroics with the bat, he helped save a run with his arm, completing a terrific relay throw to Ross, who applied a tag to nab Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips at home plate in the top of the sixth.
Castro was part of a cavalcade of Cubs who made the biggest of differences on Sunday night. The North Siders couldn’t have won without seven strong innings from Jon Lester, terrific defense in the outfield, a scoreless performance by a quintet of relief pitchers or a manufactured run courtesy of a Dexter Fowler sacrifice fly.
But Castro delivered the game’s biggest hit, and so he gets to be at the bottom of another infield pile.
Sunday was his third time in 2015, and according to his teammates, it’s unlikely to have been his last.
“Starlin, we’ve got a lot of confidence in him when he’s at the plate,” Ross said. “He puts the bat on the ball, he comes through in the clutch, he can hit the ball to all fields. I’ve seen that too many times being the catcher on the other side. I think we have a lot of confidence in Starlin when he’s at the plate.”