Frank Castillo’s big-league career was rather interesting in the abstract. On the whole, he looks like a below average starter — he finished 82-104 with a 4.56 ERA in 13 seasons — but he had his moments.
In his first full season, he had a 3.46 ERA in 33 starts for the 1992 Cubs. He regressed the following year and ended up spending most of 1994 in the minors. He came back with his best season in 1995, finishing 11-10 with a 3.21 ERA that ranked eighth in the NL. The next year, he tied for the NL lead in losses, and when he went 3-9 with a 6.83 ERA for the Tigers in 1998, he appeared done, even if he was just 29.
Rather than give up, Castillo kept going. No turnaround appeared forthcoming when he posted a 4.68 ERA in 19 starts for the Pirates’ Triple-A team in 1999, but in 2000, he made the Blue Jays and busted out with a 10-5 record and a 3.59 ERA in 138 innings. Now, 3.59 might not seem like much now, but he would have ranked second in the AL in ERA to Pedro Martinez had he pitched the 162 innings to qualify. That caused the Red Sox to give him a multiyear deal as a free agent, and he came through with a solid first year (10-9, 4.21 ERA) before struggling in the second (6-15, 5.07 ERA) and vanishing again. He pitched just 5 1/3 more innings in the majors, the last at age 36 in 2005. In 2007, he pitched in indy ball as a 38-year-old before officially giving up. He later served as a pitching coach in the Cubs system before drowning this weekend.
But let’s go back to 1995 for a moment. On Sept. 25, Castillo was making his next to last start of the Cubs’ abbreviated season. Three weeks earlier, he had pitched a five-hit shutout against the Rockies. But on Sept. 25, facing the Cardinals, he had something even more special in store. With his wife watching on, Castillo took a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth, losing it only when Bernard Gilkey delivered a triple on a 2-2 fastball with two outs, Sammy Sosa dove for the ball in right field, but came up a bit short.
“It was one of those pitches that as soon as I threw it, I wanted it back,” Castillo told the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan afterwards. “Sammy made a great effort. He almost made it.”
He was one strike away from history, but even though he couldn’t quite pull it off, it was a whale of a game. He fanned 13 and walked just two. He faced two batters over the minimum. His Game Score of 96 was tied for the best of the 1995 season, and it was the highest mark for a Cub since 1971.
RIP, Frank. 44 is far too young.