MINNEAPOLIS – The best thing about Saturday for Starlin Castro was that it wasn’t Friday.
“Every day it’s a new day,” said the Cubs’ shortstop, who – less than 24 hours after a costly, “embarrassing” lapse in the field – delivered the game-winning hit in the 10th inning and an afternoon of focused work in the field as the Cubs beat the Minnesota Twins 4-1 at Target Field.
“That’s the best part,” said Castro, who recorded the final out with a leaping snare of a line drive to rob Brian Dozier of a potential run-scoring hit. “You try to keep it going, keep your head up.”
Whether he can keep it up and keep the focus every game, every week, throughout every month is the question – and one of manager Joe Maddon’s biggest projects – as the Cubs try to avoid most costly mistakes and give themselves a chance to stay in a playoff race into September.
Talking before Saturday’s win, Maddon didn’t seem sure what it might finally take to eliminate the kind of mental lapses in Castro that continue to haunt the three-time All-Star – and the team — into his sixth big-league season.
One thing the manager doesn’t see happening anytime soon is moving Castro off of shortstop, no matter how many people seem to be clamoring for second baseman Addison Russell replacing him.
“I haven’t had that conversation with Theo or anybody yet,” said Maddon, who defended Castro and talked about patience with the 25-year-old. “I don’t see that right now as anything I’d like to do.
“I feel my responsibility, and our responsibility, is to try to get him better and to eradicate to some extent the mental mistakes.”
Maddon talked to Castro before the game and said “he’s still beat up by the whole thing,” then offered his support. That Castro looked sharp and focused Saturday wasn’t a surprise – he has typically responded to gaffes with that kind of energy. At least short term.
“When the game started [Saturday] I just put in my mind to try to make every play, be aggressive with every ball,” he said. “If I make an error, I make it. But I make it because I’m aggressive.
“I know I’m good. I know I’m better than that. I just have to keep my focus all game and try to make every play.”
Nobody, including Castro, seems to have an answer for why that has been such a challenge for him at moments throughout his career.
“I’ve had players like that in the past,” Maddon said. “Sometimes it never goes away. Sometimes it goes away.”
By all accounts, Castro works hard and is genuine in his desire to become a great player.
Maddon already is Castro’s fifth big-league manager, and he’s only five months into working with him.
“So maybe I’m a little more patient than a lot of people in this situation,” Maddon said. “I still look at his birth certificate. And I know talking to him that I believe it’s going to go away.
“The other part is I don’t know if he’s been attached to a team with this kind of ability to this moment. So maybe in the past the interior need to get rid of this may not have been as dramatic or as pertinent as it is now for him to do it.
“I don’t give up easily. I see a lot of good there.”
The Cubs might not have had a chance at a 10th-inning rally if not for a ninth-inning replay challenge that might be the biggest of the 12 reviews they’ve won.
Twins DH Joe Mauer led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk, and then was called safe on a steal of second. But second baseman Addison Russell kept the tag on Mauer all the way through the slide – during which Mauer slid off the bag.
The call was reversed, which turned Torii Hunter’s single one out later into a harmless play instead of a potential walk-off run.
“Not me – go right to the video guys,” Maddon said. “Huge. … You’ve got to give Addison credit right there, and you’ve got to give the video guys credit.”
If it looked like Jon Lester was surprised – and displeased – to see Maddon emerge from the dugout after Lester retired the first batter of the seventh, it’s because he was.
“I’m not happy, but that doesn’t mean I’m down there second-guessing or yelling at the manager,” said Lester, who flung his glove on the bench when he got to the dugout, then exited into the tunnel. “We’re all competitors. He’s competing just along with us. His job is hard enough; my job’s hard enough.
“I try to stay in my own lane.”
The game was tied 1-1 at the time, with Lester at 102 pitches, having struck out nine, allowed three hits and having retired 14 of the previous 17 batters.
Maddon said it had more than anything to do with the next batter, Kurt Suzuki, who had hit the ball hard the first two games of the series – including a second-inning homer off Lester.
Of Lester’s displeasure, Maddon said, “I want that. Absolutely.”
He said he explained his reasoning to Lester.
“I don’t need an explanation,” Lester said. “But it was nice, and I think it always kind of eases your mind when you do get an explanation.”
Lester has allowed only two runs in his last two starts (1.35 ERA) but did not get the decision in either. The Cubs won both in extra innings.