Each spent time in the American League until they became teammates for the first time this season as Mets. Through changes in time, teams and leagues, Cora never has changed his view of Castillo. And now they have played adjacent positions for most of the past two months, his sense of Castillo is only reinforced -- "A big leaguer, a pro."
For reasons that excluded Cora and Castillo, the Mets' 2009 has stalled, but only after weeks of regression. This set of shortstop/second baseman is not to be compared with Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, Bucky Dent and Willie Randolph or Rey Ordonez and Edgardo Alfonzo. But it has provided the Mets stabilized play in the middle of the infield. Cora and Castillo have been integral parts of a solution that hasn't worked as well as the Mets had hoped. Neither is part of the problem, though.
Asked to provide far more than the club had anticipated needing from him, Cora has made most of the plays Jose Reyes would make were he not disabled. His offense hasn't been remotely comparable to Reyes', of course, but it wasn't supposed to be. Castillo, though, has been more the player the Mets had envisioned almost two years ago when they acquired him from the Twins.
Castillo has been a contributor, and aside from one grand faux pas that has stained his reputation, he has been anything but the disappointment he was last season when injury and resulting lack of production made him a villain in his own park and the player most Mets fans wanted exiled.
"I have an idea of what went on here last year," Cora says. "I know he had a tough time of it last year. But you can't tell by the way he's playing this year. He's been a solid player, the player I remember -- a threat, hard to defend. He happened to have his first bad year in the first year of a contract. But give the guy a mulligan. He had one bad year out of 13."
At age 33, Castillo has prospered in his mulligan season. A .292 career hitter entering this season, he was batting .286 in 259 at-bats before the Mets played the final game of their four-game series against the Braves on Sunday. Moreover, he has been a force reaching base of late. His on-base percentage for the season was .386 through Saturday. But it was .447 in his previous 20 games and .528 in the past nine.
Batting second (29 games), eighth (23) and leadoff (14), he has driven in 19 runs, somewhat less than might be expected on a team with such a challenged offense. His 19th RBI came in the ninth inning Saturday when his squeeze bunt scored Angel Pagan. The squeeze was the first of Castillo's career. Honest. A most accomplished bunter has but one. It was nicely executed, too, on a low and away pitch.
Manager Jerry Manuel was surprised to learn that, particularly when he recalled Castillo had played for Jack McKeon and Jim Leyland.
"It just never came up," Castillo said. "No one gave me the signal."
So how did he know the sign Saturday? "I guessed," Castillo said smiling.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.