Michael Lorenzen gave up a three-run home run in the seventh to Kris Bryant and the Cubs used that as the impetus to a 6-3 knife-plunging victory.
Instead of sitting pretty, only five games behind the first-place Cubs, the Reds are back to Square One — seven games behind, exactly where they were when the four-game series began.
Castillo had a two-hit shutout and was leading 3-0 after five. The Cubs scored one in the sixth and four in the seventh, including the Bryant Bomb that broke many hearts sitting in the seats.
For an added cushion, Ian Happ hit a two-out solo home run in the eighth off Amir Garrett.
“I tried to get ahead with a slider,” said Lorenzen. “That was it. I have struggled with that pitch for a while now. He probably was sitting on it and hit it. It was down, he got it and it went over the fence.
“And when you lose the game for your team, it is tough to swallow, that’s for sure,” said Lorenzen.
Castillo was lifted with two outs in the seventh, one run home, and two on. He was at the 100-pitch mark.
“As good as he was, I saw some signs (from Castillo) in the sixth and the beginning of the seventh,” said manager David Bell. “While I believe in Castillo, I believe in Lorenzen, too. So I thought that was the right decision there.”
“I was disappointed, but that’s all part of the game,” he said. “It is not the last time it is going to happen. I still felt good (in the seventh). My last time out I was able to go 120-plus pitches. I still felt good.”
Cubs starter Lester issued a two-out, four-pitch walk with nobody on in the fourth and paid the piper. He had Joey Votto 0-and-2, but Votto pulled a double inside the first-base bag and the Reds owned a 1-0 lead.
Lester walked Eugenio Suarez, putting two on with two outs for Aristides Aquino. Alas, he didn’t hit a home run. He blasted a sizzling single to center to score Votto to give the Reds a 2-0 margin.
Lester struck out the first two in the fifth inning. When he went to 3-and-0 on Suarez, he grooved one and Suarez punctured it into the right field seats, his 33rd home run and a 3-0 Reds lead.
All was happy on the riverfront at that time, but things began changing quickly.
Castillo encountered his first squirmy moments in the sixth when he gave up a pair of singles by Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant, putting runners on second and first with one out.
Right fielder Aquino chased down Anthony Rizzo’s soft liner in right center. Castillo had Javier Baez 0-and-2, but he doubled to the base of the left field wall, scoring a run and putting runners on third and second.
Middletown native Kyle Schwarber put the fear of Abner Doubleday into Reds fan by driving one to deep left, a breath-holder. Phillip Ervin drifted to the wall and caught it, ending the threat and leaving the Reds ahead, 3-1.
Castillo was right back in the cooking pot in the seventh. Happ opened the inning by doubling off the yellow line atop the left field wall.
Second baseman Kyle Farmer made a diving stop on Victor Caratini’s grounder up the middle and threw him out as Happ took third. Pinch-hitter Tony Kemp grounded to first, scoring Happ and it was 3-2.
When Jason Heyward beat an infield excuse-me hit to second base on the infield grass, Castillo’s day was done.
Lorenzen arrived on the scene and yielded a two-out single to Nicholas Castellanos, putting runners on second and first and…crunch…Bryant hit the first pitch into the left center seats, a three-run rip, his 23rd, to give the Cubs a 5-3 lead.
“It was a great series and we really wanted to win this game,” said Bell after the teams split the series at 2-2. “We have a lot of good things happening. We like where we are. We just have to keep going, keep playing.
“I believe in our bullpen, I really do,” Bell added. “I believe in getting better, too. Gausman and Lucas Sims and Robert Stephenson have been good. And we are going to need all those guys. We can’t always rely on Lorenzen and Amir Garrett and Raisel Iglesias. We’ve asked a lot of them.”
Meanwhile, the Cubs’ bullpen was nearly immaculate. David Phelps pitched a perfect sixth. Rowan Wick retired six of seven, four via strikeouts. Pedro Strop, filling in as closer for the injured Craig Kimbrel, pitched a scoreless ninth for his ninth save to put a ribbon around Chicago’s come-from-behind victory.