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Nats' Castilla Rues the One That Got Away

"Really? He only needed a single," Church said. "Is that it? Then he got hit. Oh, that [stinks]."

But if Castilla was still angry, he did not show it. He walked in from the shower, with a bag of ice wrapped around his right shoulder, and laughed as he saw a group of people standing in front of his locker.

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)

"Tell us about the hit," someone shouted.

"Which one?" Castilla asked. And then he laughed.

He has become a smarter hitter in the waning days of a career that began in the late 1980s. In the old days, back when he was smacking home runs for the Colorado Rockies as a member of the Blake Street Bombers, he was something of a free swinger. These days he's more selective, looking for the right pitch, waiting, patient.

"I saw 100 RBI," hitting coach Tom McCraw said when the Nationals signed Castilla to a two-year contract this past winter. With seven in the first week, Castilla is on his way.

In earlier years, the knock on Castilla was that he could only hit in Denver's thin air, that he could never be a slugger in a city closer to sea level.

Then last season he drove in 131 runs for the Atlanta Braves, and he's already hit two home runs for the Nationals.

On the first night in the new place, where everybody is looking for a star, the Hall of Fame came and took his bat; they are going to put it on display someday. Castilla laughed and thought about the day he could someday take his grandchildren to see it.

And then he could tell them about the night that was almost perfect.

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