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Castillo lifts Marlins with rare power display

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Luis Castillo begged for one hit off his
friend, Jose Rijo. He got three -- two infield singles and a
once-in-a-lifetime homer.

Castillo hit his first career homer from the left side Thursday,
a three-run shot off Rijo that sent the Florida Marlins to an 8-4
victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Castillo had three hits for the second consecutive game,
jump-starting an offense that has languished during the longest
trip in Marlins history. Castillo has an 11-game hitting streak,
going 23-for-49.

When he arrived in Cincinnati, Castillo spent some time with
Rijo (4-2), one of his friends from the Dominican, and asked him to
go easy when they went head-to-head.

"I said, 'Give me a hit,''' Castillo said. "He said, 'OK, you
can get a hit, but you can't score a run.'''

Castillo had infield singles in his first two at-bats, then hit
a three-run homer in the fourth -- his first homer batting
left-handed at any level of professional baseball.

"I actually threw the ball where I wanted,'' Rijo said.
"Unfortunately, he was swinging. I fell behind, and I made him a
good hitter. Well, he's already a good hitter. I made him a power
hitter.''

Florida has gone 3-7 on its 14-game trip, tumbling out of first
place in the NL East because of an inconsistent offense and a
homer-prone pitching staff. The Marlins gave up 20 homers in the
first nine games of the trip, including four grand slams.

The Reds hit a grand slam in each of the first two games of
their series, but Julian Tavarez (2-3) and the bullpen kept them in
the park -- just barely. Juan Encarnacion had a pair of run-scoring
doubles, one of which hit the top of the wall and bounced back, as
the Reds stayed close but never caught up after Castillo's homer.

The Marlins scored three runs in the last two innings on a
sacrifice fly, a wild pitch and a throwing error.

"This was huge,'' said Eric Owens, who drove in two runs with
an infield single and a sacrifice fly. "You never want to get
swept. You want to stop that losing streak immediately.''

Vladimir Nunez pitched the last two innings for his 10th save in
12 chances.

Rijo lost for only the second time since he rejoined the
rotation, completing his comeback from five elbow operations. He
lost his control in the fourth with the score tied at 1.

Rijo retired the first two batters, then walked Charles Johnson
and Tavarez, who has only one hit this season.

"That cost me,'' Rijo said. "Walking the eighth and ninth
guys, that's something I'll never forget. When I walked the
pitcher, I was just trying to throw strikes.''

After he missed the strike zone with his first pitch to
Castillo, pitching coach Don Gullett visited the mound. Castillo
hit the next pitch for his first homer since last Aug. 5, a span of
76 games.

The homer was so unexpected that Tavarez stopped at third after
the ball barely cleared the right-field wall, figuring the ball
must have bounced over the wall.

"I said, 'What are you doing stopping at third?' He thought it
was a ground-rule double,'' Castillo said.

It was Castillo's seventh career homer and his first in 1,772
at-bats swinging left-handed.

Rijo gave up six hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings, failing
to make it out of the fourth inning for the second time in his
seven starts. His ERA as a starter rose to 4.89.

Tavarez went on the disabled list with a strained shoulder in
mid-April and had been hit hard since his return. In his last start
on May 16, Tavarez gave up a career-high 10 runs in four innings of
a 10-3 loss at Colorado.

He had his usual first-inning problems. Todd Walker singled on
his first pitch and Encarnacion doubled to the gap on his third
pitch of the game, putting the Reds up 1-0.

Twelve of the 32 runs off Tavarez this season have come in the
first inning, when opponents have batted .531 (17-for-32).

Encarnacion's RBI double and Adam Dunn's single off Tavarez cut
it to 5-3 in the fifth, and Walker had a run-scoring single in the
sixth. The Marlins pulled away with three runs against the
bullpen.

Game notes
Castillo also hit his first major league homer in
Cincinnati -- on Aug. 30, 1996 off left-hander Mike Remlinger. ...
After he left the game, Tavarez was ejected by home plate umpire
Charlie Reliford for complaining about ball-and-strike calls in the
early innings. ... Reds CF Ken Griffey Jr. was packed for his first
trip since he tore the patella tendon in his right knee on April 7.
He's expected to play in Atlanta this weekend. The Reds optioned
INF Gookie Dawkins to Double-A Chattanooga to open a roster spot
after the game.