When he has played well—whether it's on the field or in a card game—Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo likes to strut around the clubhouse and call himself the King. He's had several self-coronations lately. Castillo had a 25-game hitting streak through Sunday, the longest in the majors this season, and he has quietly developed into the National League's most dangerous leadoff hitter. He led the league with 21 stolen bases, and his .328 average ranked seventh.
Castillo, a 26-year-old switch-hitter from San Pedro de Macoris, in the Dominican Republic, appeared to be a rising star two years ago, when he hit .334 and stole a major-league-high 62 bases. He slipped badly last season, however, batting .263 with 33 steals. The King's problem, believe it or not, was confidence-Castillo would sink into a funk with every minor miscue or slump. "I don't think he was cognizant of how good he was," says former Marlins manager John Boles, who's now a senior adviser to baseball operations for the Dodgers.
In his fourth full season Castillo's regal bearing in the clubhouse (he's still King of the card games) is finally backed by self-assuredness on the field. With his blazing speed as a catalyst—Castillo led the National League with 23 infield hits—Florida had the fifth-highest scoring offense in the league (4.7 runs per game) at week's end. "We're riding the wave," said leftfielder Kevin Millar. "With confidence, Luis turns into Godzilla."
Bonds at Yankee Stadium
A Titanic Shot—Then a Letdown
At a January awards dinner in New York City, Barry Bonds stood on the dais and told Yankees manager Joe Torre how much he was looking forward to facing the Yankees and Roger Clemens in their first interleague meeting. "Joe," Bonds said to Torre, "make sure he's pitching in that series."
Bonds, who set foot in the House that Ruth Built for the first time last Friday, got his wish on Sunday afternoon, but like many prizefights the showdown didn't live up to the hype. Clemens walked Bonds three times, twice intentionally. Bonds also drew an intentional pass from reliever Steve Karsay with a runner on first and two out in the ninth. (The crowd booed after every walk.) In the third inning, however, Clemens did follow through on a promise he had made earlier in the week to "introduce myself real quick" to Bonds: He plunked the slugger on the elbow guard he wears on his right arm.
The Clemens-Bonds matchup may have been anticlimactic, but three thrilling games were played before packed houses. Before the series opener, a 2-1 win for New York on Friday night, Bonds toured Monument Park behind the outfield fence, and then he went 2 for 3 against righthander Mike Mussina. But the highlight of the weekend came the next day, when Bonds launched a majestic 385-foot three-run homer—the 588th of his career—that landed 16 rows up in the upper deck in right-field to help the Giants win 4-3. "I think anybody would feel good about that," he said after the game. "The fans wanted to see what I did in the first inning. After that, they wanted me out every time."