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Castro issues a payback


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The baseball gods were not looking after us yesterday, were they? The irony of it all is incredible.


Castro issues a payback


Catcher Ramon Castro, who was given up on by the Marlins last season, hit a game-winning single in the ninth to lead the Mets past his former teammates.




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NEW YORK - Ramon Castro was a colossal dud as a Marlin, but he delivered the monumental hit to beat them Saturday at Shea Stadium. And he delivered it off reliever Guillermo Mota, who is a Marlin only because Castro was unable to prove himself worthy of remaining one.


The Mets won 4-3 on Castro's ninth-inning single off Mota.


Call it a case of baseball's flotsam and jetsam coming full swirl at a defining moment, in Saturday's particular case, the ninth inning of a deadlocked game. The Mets prevailed not because former Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, pitching for the first time before Shea fans, added salt to the Marlins' hitting rut by holding them to two runs on three dinky singles and that many wild pitches.


Nor was it because -- as much as the griping Marlins would like to contend -- that home plate umpire Charlie Relaford appeared to botch a critical call that could have turned the outcome, at least as replays showed it.


It was because Castro did a take-that number on the Marlins after they disposed of him like a piece of garbage furniture.


Was it extra sweet for Castro, considering the circumstances?


''Especially for me,'' Castro said. ``Last year I got hurt [with the Marlins] and didn't get the chance to play. This year, the Mets gave me the chance.''


Truth be known, the Marlins gave Castro every chance possible. After losing Ivan Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers through free agency, the defending World Series champions handed Castro the every-day catching job. He bombed, hitting .135 before injuring a toe and dropping out of sight and mind as far as the Marlins were concerned.


Manager Jack McKeon always had his doubts about the catcher, and Castro's failures precipitated the trade last July in which the Marlins, still believing they had a shot to make another run for the playoffs, pulled the trigger on a deal with the Dodgers in which they acquired catcher Paul Lo Duca, outfielder Juan Encarnacion and Mota in exchange for starting pitcher Brad Penny and first baseman Hee Seop Choi.


Castro parachuted into a backup role to Mike Piazza on the Mets, and he hit the bull's-eye Saturday before a crowd of 55,351. A pronounced dead-pull hitter, Castro stroked a two-out, opposite-field single off Mota that easily scored Victor Diaz from second with the game-winning run.


A late-inning maelstrom overshadowed a fine pitching duel between Martinez and ex-Met Al Leiter.


Leiter was more than equal to Martinez. He held his old teammates to a run on three hits before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth.




But with the Marlins clinging to a 2-1 lead, the two Florida runs courtesy of Martinez's career-high three wild pitches, the Mets rallied late off Todd Jones. Jones was ineffective, surrendering a pair of eighth-inning runs on three hits and enabling the Mets to inch ahead, 3-2.


''Al threw the ball great, and I didn't,'' Jones said.


Jones made a critical mistake when he walked weak-hitting Miguel Cairo with two outs and a man on second. That brought up Carlos Beltran, whose single drove in the tying run. With runners at first and third and Piazza up, Jones and the Marlins elected to go after a career .314 hitter instead of walking the ever-dangerous (and likely future Hall of Famer) Piazza to face Chris Woodward, a career .246 hitter.


''If I knew walking him would guarantee I would get the next guy out, then it would be easy,'' McKeon said of the decision to pitch to Piazza.


Piazza promptly doubled, driving in Cairo with the go-ahead run.


Former Marlins reliever Braden Looper ran into trouble in the top of the ninth when he gave up back-to-back singles to Cabrera and Carlos Delgado. After slumping Mike Lowell flied out, Lo Duca hit a bouncer to Mets first baseman Doug Mientkeiwicz, whose throw to the plate was a bit high.




Castro, who was inserted in the ninth as a defensive replacement for Piazza, looked to have missed the tag on Cabrera at the plate.


''I thought he was safe, but the umpire said he was out,'' McKeon said. ``You guys [reporters] ought to campaign Major League Baseball for having instant replay, instead of having all this [stuff] of second-guessing the umpires. Do something about it. Campaign for instant replay.''


The Marlins still managed to tie the game when Juan Encarnacion delivered a two-out double off Looper, driving in Delgado.


But it was Castro who put the game away in an instant.





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