NEW YORK – Starlin Castro gave Mets fans a firsthand tease of the two-way talent that has so many of them eager to see him in a New York uniform.
The All-Star shortstop hit a tiebreaking homer on the first pitch of the ninth inning Sunday, lifting the Cubs to a 2-1 victory at Citi Field. Castro also started a slick double play to snuff out a rally, showing off the full set of skills that could make him an attractive trade target this winter.
Chicago has several touted shortstops rising through its system, while the Mets are searching for a solution at that position. So it seems a possible fit, and plenty of Mets backers have called for the team to pursue the 24-year-old Castro.
"He's having a very good season and we're glad to see that," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.
Cubs starter Jake Arrieta allowed two hits in seven smooth innings. Featuring a sharp curve, he struck out nine and left with a 1-0 lead following Luis Valbuena's run-scoring single in the fourth.
"I just had a good feel for it. Was able to throw it in multiple counts, for a strike, below the zone," Arrieta said. "So it was there for me when I needed it today."
Curtis Granderson tied it with a two-out RBI single off winner Pedro Strop (2-4) in the eighth, snapping skids of 0 for 17 and 1 for 29. A diving catch by rookie center fielder Arismendy Alcantara moments earlier prevented more potential damage.
Castro greeted closer Jenrry Mejia (5-6) with his 13th home run, an opposite-field drive that barely cleared the wall near the right-field corner.
"Just go up there and be aggressive," Castro said. "We've played a lot of extra-inning games the last 20, 15 games, whatever."
Hector Rondon got three quick outs for his 17th save, finishing a four-hitter that ended the Cubs' three-game losing streak.
Valbuena returned to the lineup and snapped a 1-for-32 slide with a two-out RBI single off Mets rookie Rafael Montero, still looking for his first win after six major league starts. Montero delivered an encouraging performance, though, going 7 1-3 innings for the longest outing of his career.
Arrieta struck out three straight in the second and whiffed the 3-4-5 hitters in the fourth. He started a 1-6-3 double play after a leadoff walk in the seventh and was helped out of his toughest jam by Castro in the third.
With runners at the corners, the shortstop made a sharp pickup and a nifty flip to start an inning-ending double play against Juan Lagares. Rookie second baseman Javier Baez got in on the act with a barehanded turn.
Cubs: Prized 3B prospect Kris Bryant, who left Saturday's game with Triple-A Iowa, is day to day with a bruised left foot, the result of a foul ball a few days ago. "All indications are he's OK," Renteria said. Bryant has 40 homers combined at Double-A and Triple-A this season, most in professional baseball, and 103 RBIs. He is not on the 40-man roster, however, and the Cubs are not planning to promote him to the majors this season, even when rosters expand in September.
Cubs rookie Kyle Hendricks (4-1, 1.73 ERA) starts the four-game series finale Monday afternoon against 41-year-old Bartolo Colon (11-10, 3.85), who is 0-2 with a 4.73 ERA in five career starts against the Cubs. Valbuena has two homers in five at-bats against Colon.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur, just called up from Triple-A Iowa, made his major league debut as a pinch runner in the eighth. He stayed in the game in right field and grounded into a fielder's choice one inning later.
Szczur said he had around 18 people in his cheering section. He is from Cape May, New Jersey, about 3 hours from Citi Field. Renteria said he expects to give Szczur a start at some point.
WALK THIS WAY
Baez scored after a leadoff walk in the fourth, his first in 55 major league plate appearances. He walked again in the eighth.