When Cincinnati Reds right fielder Nick Castellanos played his first full season in MLB in 2014, he finished the year with 11 home runs.
As a member of the Detroit Tigers, Castellanos didn’t hit his 30th career home run until his third full season in MLB. Even in 2019, when Castellanos led MLB with 58 doubles, he hadn’t yet completed a 30-homer season.
On Friday, in front of a crowd of 16,021 at Great American Ball Park, Castellanos hit his 30th homer of the season and reached that milestone for the first time in his career.
Castellanos’ solo home run tied the score in the sixth inning, and Reds outfielder Aristides Aquino hit a walk-off single in the 11th inning in an 8-7 Reds win over the Washington Nationals.
“(Castellanos) has been such a good hitter for a long time for a young player’s career,” Reds manager David Bell said. “And I thought maybe he had done it before. It’s a big deal to hit 30 home runs. Not only that, but he’s not just a home run hitter, he’s far from that. He’s just a good all-around hitter.”
Heading into Friday’s game, even though Castellanos was having a career year, he was in the middle of his worst statistical stretch of the season. Between Aug. 5 and Sept. 23, Castellanos’ batting average dipped from .326 to .307. In September, Castellanos was hitting .263 with five homers in 80 at-bats before Friday’s game.
In each of the Reds two wins this week, Castellanos has given the offense a boost. In Monday’s win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Castellanos had three hits and three RBI. Then on Friday, Castellanos hit a 101.5 mph line drive over the center field fence that tied the score at four runs in the sixth inning.
“He's pretty special,” Aquino said. “He's a great guy, hard working. Everyone's happy for him . He hit his 30th homer, that's good for him. We're all excited for him.”
In the top of the ninth inning, Reds reliever Mychal Givens was one strike away from ending the game two different times. The Reds walked Nationals star Juan Soto, and then Givens allowed another walk and an RBI single.
The Nationals tied the game on a weak ground ball single by infielder Luis Garcia, which sent the game to extra innings.
Givens blew the save in the ninth inning, but Aquino provided the game-winning hit in the 11th. With center fielder TJ Friedl starting as the automatic runner on second base, Aquino got the game-winning hit with a sharp ground ball up the middle.
“He continues to work and work and work and not get results,” Bell said. “So to come through, not only get a hit, but to get a game-winner. Those don’t come around very often for any player. You just don’t get the opportunity that much.”
Aquino entered the game with just 25 at-bats in September, and he had lost his platoon role in the outfield against left-handed pitchers. He was hitting .178 with a .681 OPS, but he got his opportunity on Friday in a game where Bell used his entire bench.
“That’s why we have to be ready to compete,” Aquino said. “No matter what, we want to be the big hitter. Tonight it was me. I had to be ready.”
Aquino said the only thing on his mind in the 11th inning was to put the ball in play and move the runner over. He hit a line drive ground ball that deflected off the glove of the Nationals second baseman, and Friedl sprinted home to score the game-winning run.
“Any time you do to help the team to win, it's pretty special,” Aquino said. “To have a walk-off is pretty special.”