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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)


"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.

Thwack!

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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