Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum hasn't been shy about sending strong messages to Starlin Castro in the past, and he didn't hesitate a bit on Saturday when his starting shortstop made an embarrassing mental gaffe that cost his team a run.
In happened in the fifth inning as the Cardinals loaded the bases with one out. All-Star Matt Carpenter would hit a lazy pop up into very shallow left field that was playable by either Castro or left fielder Junior Lake. Castro ended up making the grab after third base umpire Ron Kulpa ruled the infield fly was in effect, but then he just inexplicably put his head down and took two steps towards the foul line before realizing the play was still alive.
The runner at third base, Jon Jay, took advantage of Castro's lapse and sprinted to the plate. Castro actually had a play on him at home with a strong throw, but it ended up bouncing and handcuffing catcher Wellington Castillo. Jay was safe, and the Cardinals now led 2-0.
When Castro returned to the dugout between innings, he was immediately notified by Sveum that he was being removed from the game. Castro seemingly took his punishment in stride in the dugout, and was very apologetic to his teammates after the Cardinals finished up their 4-0 victory.
"It's my fault," he said. "I apologize, especially to Woody (pitcher Travis Wood) and my teammates and the coaches. It's my fault. I had to pay for that.
"I knew the outs and everything. I just put my head down, like a mental mistake. I don't really want to say any excuse for that.
"It's my mistake, and that's why I paid for that. I feel really, really bad that happened, especially with Woody pitching good."
Cubs management will hope that this is rock bottom for Castro in terms of his mental lapses, but at 23-years-old, there's still a lot of room for growth both mentally and physically if the Cubs are willing to be patient.
"There are only so many meetings and so many things you can say, and obviously, when you've played this much baseball it gets to the point where you have to do it yourself," Sveum said, putting most of the onus on Castro to fix things.
"There's no question that it's up to both of us, but it's always up to the individual," Sveum said. "He's played in the big leagues long enough, and we've had our discussions. There comes a point in time where you have to cross that bridge and get to the next level.
"He feels as bad as anybody. He knows what happened. He feels awful right now."
Personally, I thought the way Sveum handled the situation was pretty much spot on even as the game was still going on. Now having heard and read what Castro said afterwards, I believe it even more. It may not be this situation that causes the light bulb to go on completely, but Castro seems to be absorbing more of the responsibility each time he screws up.
In a perfect world, yes, Castro would be past these issues by now. But it's not a perfect world, and all that matters for Chicago is that he gets it eventually, though preferably sooner than later.