Starlin Castro has had a year to forget. But on Saturday, he showed what the future could hold if he just stops thinking and starts hitting.
Castro had two hits, including the go-ahead home run, as the Chicago Cubs defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 4-3.
"That's what I put in my mind, it's a new start," Castro said. "These first five months, I don't put it in my mind anymore. I've been thinking too much, too many things. Especially think about hitting, think about defense, think about everything. This last month, I just put it in my mind, just finish strong."
Zach Miner opened the sixth for the Phillies, replacing starter Cliff Lee. Castro greeted Miner (0-1) rudely, sending the second pitch he saw deep into the centerfield bleachers to put the Cubs ahead 4-3.
Castro added a double on the day, giving him his second consecutive two-hit game and four extra base hits in the first two games of the series. Castro is still just hitting .242 on the season while slugging a measly .344.
Nevertheless, Cubs manager Dale Sveum was happy to see his shortstop display his skills over the past two days.
"He's been swinging the bat with a lot more authority lately," Sveum said. "Seeing him put that kind of swing on that ball to centerfield with the wind blowing in, that was nice. Especially a game-winner."
Both starters failed to reach the sixth, as Lee had a rare off day with his control. Lee entered the game second in the National League with 1.41 walks per nine innings but tied a season high by issuing three against the Cubs. Lee tossed 113 pitches in his five innings while giving up three runs, two earned, on nine hits.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg felt Lee battled but was obviously not at his best.
"He just seemed a little out of sync the whole start," Sandberg said. "Throwing a lot of pitches, missing just off the plate. He's a guy that usually pitches ahead in the count and really goes after the hitters and pounds the zone. Yeah, he was a little off."
Cubs starter Chris Rusin didn't fare much better, going five innings while allowing three runs on four hits while walking three and hitting two batters.
Despite the struggles with control from both pitchers, it was the numerous miscues on the defensive side that stood out early in the game. The sloppy play seemed to be a theme in a mistake-filled third, as both teams allowed unearned runs to score in the inning.
With two down in the top half of the inning, Chase Utley rolled a grounder to third base and reached safely after Anthony Rizzo couldn't handle Donnie Murphy's throw. With Carlos Ruiz at bat, Rusin appeared to have Utley picked off first, but Rizzo's throw to second base sailed into left field. Utley came around to score when Ruiz lined a double into the leftfield corner, putting the Phillies up 2-1.
"It's tough, but that's what you have to be prepared for as a pitcher," Rusin said. "You can't always expect routine plays to be (made). We're all human, we all make mistakes and you just gotta pick your teammates up. They got a run out of it, but I thought I minimized the damage."
The Phillies handed the run right back to the Cubs in the bottom half of the inning when Murphy reached on a two-out error by Michael Young. Junior Lake followed with a single and Murphy came around to score on Welington Castillo's single.
Young's fourth-inning triple drove in Lee and put the Phillies on top 3-2. Initially it looked as though Lee would not be able to score on the play, but as Cole Gillespie went to field Young's liner, he slipped. The ball ricocheted off the wall and bounced past Gillespie back into rightfield, allowing Lee to score and Young to get all the way to third.
The Cubs would later tie it back up at 3-3 when Murphy scored on Gillespie's fifth-inning sacrifice fly.
"It was a strange game," Lee said. "We kept taking the lead and I gave it back to them twice in a row. Then we took the lead again in the fourth and I allowed them to tie back up again in the (fifth). They battled, drew some walks, got some two-out hits and had a lot of long at-bats."
The Cubs' bullpen tossed four shutout innings to seal the victory. Carlos Villanueva (3-8), who relieved Rusin to start the sixth, allowed one hit in 1 1/3 innings to pick up the win. Kevin Gregg worked the ninth to pick up his 28th save in 33 opportunities.
NOTES: Phillies OF Domonic Brown will have an MRI on his right Achilles on Monday when the team returns to Philadelphia. Brown did not start the game, but struck out when he pinch-hit in the ninth. ... 3B Cody Ashe was held out of the lineup for the third consecutive day. Ashe had missed the previous two games with a hamstring issue. ... Both OF Ryan Sweeney and 3B Luis Valbuena are expected to rejoin the Cubs on Sunday after making rehab appearances with the Kane County Cougars on Saturday. Sweeney has been on the disabled list since fracturing a rib when crashing into the outfield wall in Seattle on June 29. Valbuena has been sidelined since Aug. 3 with a right oblique strain. ... RHP Scott Baker will make a rehab start for the Cougars on Monday as he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery.