Sunday was slated to be all about Rusney Castillo. The Cuban outfielder was leading off as the designated hitter in his first start in a Red Sox uniform since signing a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with Boston on Aug. 23. What's more, he was set to help give the organization a championship as a GCL Red Sox win Sunday would have sewn up the Rookie-level circuit's title.
The GCL Yankees 1 squad, however, had other ideas.
Thanks to timely hitting by designated hitter Thairo Estrada and clutch pitching from right-hander Luis Cedeno, the Yanks captured Game 2 of the GCL Championship Series, 6-5, to force a winner-take-all Game 3 on Monday.
With the game tied in the fifth inning, 1-1, Estrada broke the pivotal contest open with a grand slam off Red Sox reliever Jaleen Beeks. It was the 18-year-old slugger's second homer of the postseason after he didn't connect on a long ball in 23 regular-season contests between short-season Staten Island and both Yankees Gulf Coast League affiliates this season.
"The guys did a great job of competing in a big way when they needed to today, and thankfully, Estrada was the guy who got the big hit," Yankees 1 manager Travis Chapman said of the 5-foot-10, 155-pound native of Venezuela. "Everybody sees him as a little guy, but he squares up balls really well and he's been hitting it with some good power lately. That's all we can ask."
It proved to be the only hit on the afternoon for Estrada, who finished 1-for-5 with the slam and two strikeouts. In three playoff games, he is 4-for-14 (.286) and leads GCL sluggers with two homers and seven RBIs after putting together a .272/.337/.309 line with only six RBIs at the lower levels this season.
While Estrada proved an unlikely hero for the pinstriped prospects, Cedeno put together yet another strong outing at the end of a season full of them. The 20-year-old right-hander, who owned a 1.13 ERA in 15 starts (40 innings) this season, utilized a fastball-curveball-changeup mix to allowed just an unearned run on three hits and a walk while fanning five over 5 2/3 innings.
"There's nobody I would have rather had out there other than him," Chapman said. "He battled for us all year long, and he battled for us today. There were a couple times when he had a couple losses in a row, and he's been able to hold the other team at bay. Today, he was locating the fastball both inside and outside well and threw his changeups and curveballs for strikes. It was what we needed."
Castillo singled and struck out against Cedeno in his only two at-bats of the afternoon before exiting for a pinch-hitter in the fifth. He was caught stealing second base after his base hit in the first.
The 27-year-old center fielder, who was playing in his first competitive game since defecting from Cuba in 2013, is expected to travel with the GCL Sox to Tampa for Game 3 on Monday and could then join one of Boston's other playoff-bound affiliates -- Class A Advanced Salem and Double-A Portland are two such clubs -- before moving up to the Majors sometime next month.
It might have been only two at-bats, but Chapman could already see a lot of potential in the toolsy Castillo.
"He's a dynamic player, you can tell that first and foremost," said the Yankees skipper. "He got that base hit up the middle, but thankfully, we were fortunate to get him out going to second and keep him off the basepaths. In the little bit we saw, you can buy that he'll be exciting for years to come."
Although they effectively spoiled the debut of a potential future rival, the manager said the focus will remain on capturing the first championship in U.S.-based affiliated baseball at home Monday.
"Red Sox-Yankees games can get a little heated with the rivalry and all that," Chapman said. "But right now, we're all about these guys and getting the ring for each other."