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Starlin Castro mental errors wearing thin on Cubs manager Dale Sveum

Updated: June 5, 2012 10:49AM

It’s easy to want to take a boot to Starlin Castro’s behind these days.

Heck, pick out your favorite Timberland and get at the end of the long line forming behind the bald guy with the No. 33 Cubs jersey on.

Tough love at its finest.

And just what Castro’s needed – finally.

The Castro-Dale Sveum showdown was building throughout the year. Little mistakes here, another oopsy there. By the time the four-game sweep at the hands of the Giants was mercifully over on Monday, enough had been enough for the Cubs manager.

Castro had a strange baserunning gaffe in Friday’s loss, inexplicably taking off for second, only to slow down because he thought Joe Mather had fouled the ball off. Mather hadn’t, and Castro was thrown out without a slide attempt.

Then on Monday, Castro took the flip from Darwin Barney on what had the makings of a double play with one out, but instead started casually jogging toward the dugout after covering second for the force, thinking that was the end of the inning.

Inexcusable for a major-leaguer, a sin for a major-league shortstop.

Sveum made that point very clear. Crystal as a matter of fact.

“It’s not acceptable,’’ Sveum said. “Those things have to stop happening or he’s going to stop playing. … Last straw. If he wants to play he better get his head in the game, period.’’

It wasn’t just his words that were carrying weight as a warning, either. Sitting behind the desk in the visiting manager’s office at AT&T Park, Sveum looked completely fed up as he spoke about Castro.

If looks could kill, Sveum would be serving Day 2 of a lifetime sentence on Tuesday in Milwaukee, while the locker formally occupied by the No. 13 would have a neon light above it, simply flashing “Vacancy.’’

Your move, Starlin.

The 22-year-old can either embrace the life lesson or shrink from it, because what became very obvious is that the old Cubs culture continues dying.

Under Lou Piniella in 2010, Castro was a rookie for a manager who had checked out in the spring, and was already scheduling tee times for late summer. Discipline? Yeah right. In a clubhouse full of crazy that year, singling out the 20-year-old was the least of the Cubs’ problems.

If Castro was screaming for some tough love last season, it sure wasn’t going to come from Mike Quade, who seemed more interested in giving his players cute nicknames than taking them to the woodshed.

In some regard, Castro has been a product of his environment. An environment where as long as you didn’t take a bat to a Gatorade cooler or fight a teammate, hell it was a good day on the North Side.

That doesn’t fly in Sveum’s world.

His belief is the shortstop has to be the smartest guy on the field, the quarterback. Derek Jeter smarts. You want to daydream, play with sunflower seeds in the dirt, and forget how many outs there are? Not on his watch, no matter what the talent level is.

Castro has shown an ability to be an offensive force. He has shown at times that he can be an above average glove. What he now has to show is that he can be a man, he can be a leader. The dressing down he received courtesy of Sveum is a nice first step in that process, and a step that seemed to take.

In talking with the media afterward, Castro seemed legitimately contrite, almost childlike.

“It’s very embarrassing,’’ Castro explained. “That can’t happen. I apologize to my team. That’s not supposed to happen.’’

The defiant swagger that Castro has shown with the media at times in the past was nowhere to be found. It was as if he knew there was someone now in charge. Someone to answer to.

That’s a good thing because I’m betting Sveum has a lot of boots in his closet.

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