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Nats' Castilla Rues the One That Got Away

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page D11

He would not look at the crowd. Not this time, not even as 45,596 people stood clapping, chanting his name. Especially not this time. At 37, Vinny Castilla had never hit for a cycle, never in 15 seasons in the major leagues, never in the minors, never back home in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Then last night, with a double, triple and home run in his first three at-bats, he was just a single away from the greatest game of his life.

Vinny Castilla stands out with a double, a triple and a two-run homer in the Nationals' first official game at RFK Stadium. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

_____ From The Post _____
Thirty-four years of waiting for baseball ended Wednesday night.
President Bush, pictured, tosses out the ceremonial first pitch.
Vinny Castilla powers the Nats to a 5-3 victory in the home opener.
Thomas Boswell: RFK Stadium was rocking like the old days.
Mike Wise: Passion and politics converged Wednesday.
The fans' exuberance overwhelms the minor glitches at the stadium.
Players were overwhelmed by the atmosphere and turnout.
Castilla was one single away from hitting for the cycle.
Notebook: Jose Guillen does not want to talk about his past.
The city's powerbrokers mix business with pleasure.
Mayor Williams found plenty of supporters at RFK Stadium.
It was a night of historic firsts at RFK Stadium.
Fans took warnings to heart and take Metro to RFK Stadium.
Local news stations covered the game with gusto.
There were many sights and sounds long not heard in D.C.
News & Notes: The home opener by the numbers.

_____ On Our Site _____
Gallery: Photos from the home opener on a historic night.
Panorama: Livan Hernandez throws the first pitch.
Panorama: The view from the top of RFK.
Audio: Post columnist Thomas Boswell sets the scene.
Audio: post.com's Anne Rittman from RFK Stadium.
Discuss the game.
Thursday's box score.

_____ Nationals Basics _____
Player capsules

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"I wanted to get that cycle," he would say after the game.

But then Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Lance Cormier let go of a two-seam fastball that kept riding up and inside, smacking against the shoulder of the Nationals third baseman, knocking him back and sucking the euphoria from a night that couldn't seem to go higher.


And there was silence.

Later, after the boos had stopped and Castilla had turned his icy glare away from Cormier and toward first base, he would smile wistfully, shaking his head at the opportunity that came so close. He wondered if maybe Cormier had been throwing at him, that the pitcher or somebody on the Diamondbacks resented seeing a Nationals player get a standing ovation on the night baseball came back to Washington.

"I don't know, you can never know that," he said. "If a pitcher means to throw at you, he's never going to say he was trying to."

He shrugged. It seemed pointless.

"I really wanted to get the cycle," he said again.

The hits came easily for Castilla last night, the way they have almost every night this season. He doubled down the left field line in the second inning, then tripled into the right field corner with two men on in the fourth. In the sixth, with two men on again, he slammed a change-up from Javier Vazquez over the left field fence, and a sold-out stadium was suddenly delirious.

After that, Castilla could not forget about the cycle. Just a week ago, in Philadelphia, he watched his teammate Brad Wilkerson accomplish the feat, and then suddenly he was a hit away from doing the same.

As he ran around the bases on the home run, he thought about the cycle. As he went out to third base the next inning, he thought about the cycle. And as he walked toward the plate in the bottom of the eighth with everybody up, with the stands shaking, he was thinking about the cycle.

Standing at first base, his teammate Ryan Church was stunned. What was going on? He had never seen something like this, a stadium full of people, all of them on their feet, serenading a player as he walked toward the plate.

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