CHICAGO -– The most important takeaway from Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s midgame benching of shortstop Starlin Castro isn’t how Castro reacted after the Cubs' 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday. It’s how Sveum reacted.
“He’s played in the big leagues long enough, and we’ve had our discussions; it comes to that point and time where you have to cross that bridge and get to the next level,” Sveum said of his maligned player. “That’s the first time I’ve had to do that in my short managerial career, but some things are unstoppable, so to speak.”
Maybe “unstoppable” wasn’t the right word, but you get the picture. This gaffe was so egregious Sveum felt compelled to pull Castro -- something he’s never done before to a player. That’s telling.
The play happened in the top of the fifth inning with one out and the bases loaded for the Cardinals. They were leading 1-0 at the time. Matt Carpenter hit a high popup into short left field. It was shallow enough that third-base umpire Ron Kulpa called the infield fly rule. But as Castro caught it moving towards the foul line, he put his head down and didn’t notice Jon Jay tagging up from third base. He rushed a bounced throw home to no avail, and the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead. After the inning was over, so was Castro’s day. Sveum pulled him.
“I put my head down; a mental mistake,” Castro explained. “I don’t want to have an excuse for that. That’s why I pay for that. I feel really, really bad.
“Pay attention to the game, don’t put my head down. Be aggressive every play. That’s a mental mistake. That kind of mistake I feel really, really bad.”
Castro said he apologized to his teammates, but we’ve heard many mea culpas by Castro before. He gets credit for owning up to his mistakes. However, at some point, they either need to end or the Cubs need to move on at that position. It might be the point Sveum is trying to make.
“There is only so much -- only so many meetings and so many things -- you can say,” Sveum stated. “When you’ve played this much baseball, it gets to the point you have to do it yourself.”
No longer is Sveum saying Castro is young and learning the game. No longer is he playing Castro every day as he envisioned in spring training. Castro has been getting days off and now is pulled midgame. The bloom is off the rose of the two-time All-Star, not just by some fans, but by his manager. Even when asked by a reporter if Castro was backpedaling or whether left fielder Junior Lake should have called him off, Sveum wasn’t buying the excuses.
“We’re searching for things,” he said. “A guy caught a popup and the guy should have stayed at third base. That’s the bottom line.”
And the bottom line for Castro is it’s one play in a horrendous season for him. He was 0-for-2 in the game before being pulled, making him 0-for-16 on the Cubs' current homestand. His average is .244. There won’t be a 200-hit season this time around.
“It’s bad,” Castro said of his season. “It’s an unbelievable year, especially for me. Never have a year like that. I feel really bad, especially with that mistake like today and my struggling at home plate. It’s tough. I don’t put my head down. I know I can be good and finish strong.”
He’ll need to, because Castro is running out of excuses, and maybe time. It wasn’t long ago that off-field issues and a contract extension were supposedly holding him back. Those are long behind him, yet his struggles continue.
“It’s my mistake, and I paid for that,” Castro said.
Sveum ended his talk with reporters on an upbeat note, so maybe all isn’t lost, but patience is undoubtedly running thin. He was asked if he could recall a player flaming out purely due to mental mistakes. Sveum didn’t bite.
“I’m not going to put Castro in that area,” he responded. “This guy already has 200 hits [in a single season] in the big leagues and he’s getting better at a shortstop. These things are happening a lot less. Today is going to be magnified. Sometimes, you hit rock bottom and you don’t happen to make these things anymore because you stay focused for 300 pitches a game.”