First of all there were the two clutch HRs. The first was a 3 run shot that tied the game at 4. The second brought the Cubs back to within one after the Pirates regained the lead. Those were the most obvious reasons to get excited.
There was also the largely forgotten first AB, the one where Starlin laid off some pitches he normally swings at to draw the count full, then took the ball the other way to beat the Pirates shift. Sure he could have taken that pitch and it would have been a walk, but Castro also showed us he still has that tremendous plate coverage, hand-eye coordination, and bat control. That was about as refreshing to see again as a walk would have been.
Lastly, there was the excellent defensive game that showcased his athleticism, arm -- and even the kind of focus we'd been hoping to see when he alertly covered 3B on one particular play.
But there was also something else about Castro that was back yesterday.
It didn't come back overnight. You could see the confidence creeping back this offseason, in the spring, and over the previous couple of games.
If you listen to Castro, he'll tell you he never lost confidence, but pictures sometimes tell you a lot more than words. There were times when you could see the frustration in Castro. He'd shake his head after inexplicably swinging at another slider low and away or wince as if it physically pained him to weakly ground out on a pitch he normally hits on a clothesline.
But not last night.
After his 3-run HR yesterday, Castro stopped and glared at the baseball that had been so elusive to him for so long. He punished it as if making it pay for making his life so difficult last season, putting it in it's proper place -- on a screaming line drive that didn't stop until it crashed against the empty bleacher seats down the left field line.
And then, as if all the world was right again, Castro put his head down and circled the bases, acting like he'd been there before -- because in all honesty, he had been there before. No words could say that he was back better than Castro's confident trot around the bases.
As he touched home and high-fived his teammates, it felt like the prodigal son had returned.
We've been critical with him because of the inconsistency, the lack of focus, and the lack of discipline, but last night Castro reminded us that he was the guy who made scouts buzz long before most of us had even heard the name Javier Baez. He helped us recall a time when it was he made us so excited for the future nearly 4 years ago as a precocious, fresh-faced, somewhat naive -- but quietly confident - 20 year old.
That fresh face is gone, now hardened by the trials of failure and harsh criticism -- the kind which he had never experienced before in his entire professional career. But the confidence is back and perhaps this time it comes with a bit more wisdom. No one ever doubted his talent -- from Larry Bowa's observations yesterday to a conversation I had with a scout this offseason. The veteran scout still felt he had Hanley Ramirez level talent from a physical standpoint, but then emphatically added that Castro needed to grow up. In all honesty, he wasn't 100% confident that it would happen. After all, some guys never reach that level of maturity you need to thrive in the big leagues.
The skeptics will say it's still early and that we should reserve judgment until Castro can do this over a larger sample size.
I agree with that.
But there was something about Castro's glare yesterday that has me convinced that he is back and perhaps better than ever -- with a little bit more swag and the kind of hard knocks wisdom and maturity that only comes when one conquers failure.
If last night was any indication, then maybe he has crossed that threshold. If that is true and Castro is indeed back, then this time he you can bet he's here to stay.