The Twins signed catcher Jason Castro to a three-year, $18 million contract during the offseason, which triggered attention to his defensive value. Most notably, his pitch framing talents.
Who knew then, as the Twins head for a wild-card playoff game against the Yankees on Tuesday, that Castro could be the one to put them in the right frame of mind?
Castro was on the Astros team that took on, and beat, the Yankees 3-0 in the wild-card game in 2015.
They walked into Yankee Stadium and walked out a winner, defeating a New York team that had Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Bret Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and other current Yankees on it.
“The intensity was definitely there,” Castro said. “Kind of a do-or-die game. It is not something many people get a sense of, unless they have played in some sort of playoff. So it is unique. The urgency is a little bit different. Everything that happens in the game can make the difference.”
The majority of Twins players have never appeared in a postseason game, which is something they can’t get around. Joe Mauer has played in nine postseason games.
Ervin Santana has pitched in eight. Castro has been in six. Chris Gimenez and Matt Belisle? Two.
Glen Perkins has pitched in one postseason game.
Castro was on an Astros team that played in such an uniquely intense atmosphere with an inexperienced team as well.
Houston, after being swept by the White Sox in 2005, didn’t return to the postseason until 2015, having endured three seasons of 100-plus losses along the way. But they were back, with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and others playing key roles.
The Astros sent Dallas Keuchel to the mound for the wild-card game, and Keuchel, in the middle of a Cy Young season, pitched six shutout innings. Castro said he was able to help Keuchel find a groove early and control the game.
“That game was indicative of the year Keuchel was having,” Castro said. “We were changing speeds and making guys swing at stuff and expand off the plate. That’s when he was really good. It was just another game for him.”
Santana was 2-2 with a 5.56 ERA in his eight postseason games, including two starts. But Castro can build on that experience to try to help Santana to find his groove early, and when Santana is pitching well, he’s able to get hitters out of their comfort zone.
There is a black cloud over Santana’s head: At new Yankees Stadium, he is 0-5 with a 6.43 ERA.
So Castro, despite batting .237 with nine home runs and 44 RBI in his first season with the Twins, will rely on his experience with Houston while helping the Twins try to beat the Yankees.
“There are a lot of similarities,” he said. “A lot of talented young guys that will be right in the thick of things, I’m excited for it.
“We match up for it pretty well, either way it shakes out.”