The circus left town and some squirrels flew in.
A day after the spectacle of Stephen Strasburg's debut, things returned to normal at Blair County Ballpark. The Curve welcomed the Eastern League's newest team, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, and posted a 4-1 win Monday night before a scarce crowd listed at 2,065.
The season is a mere five games old, and the 4-1 Curve already have shown several times they clearly understand how to play winning baseball. Veteran catcher Hector Gimenez displayed a subtle but unmistakable example of that Monday.
"I do everything I have to do for the team, to help the team find a way to win the game," Gimenez said. "That's my goal every day."
Gimenez smacked a two-run single in the first inning that scored Chase d'Arnaud and Jordy Mercer for a 2-0 lead. But it was what he did in his next at-bat that showed his commitment to the team.
Richmond had closed to within 2-1 when Miles Durham legged out a leadoff double in the fourth for Altoona. That brought Gimenez, the No. 5 hole hitter, to the plate.
Tonight: Richmond at Altoona, 6:30 p.m.
Pitching matchups: Curve RHP Mike Crotta (1-0, 1.50) vs. Senators RHP Mike MacDonald (0-0, 2.25)
Covering the bases: Page B3
His team was already leading, he already had a runner in scoring position and it was still early in the game, so Gimenez could have tried for an RBI hit. Instead, he gave himself up for the good of the team and dropped down a sacrifice bunt that moved Durham to third.
"It was my call," Gimenez said. "It was a situation that we're up by one run only, bottom of the fourth inning. I thought it was a good chance to move the runner over. After Miles got the double, I gave a chance to my teammate to get an RBI."
That's exactly what happened, too. With the infield in, Josh Harrison hit a grounder to the right of shortstop Brandon Crawford, whose throw to the plate beat the runner.
Durham used a nifty slide, however, to score as he brushed the plate with his left hand past the tag attempt by catcher Jackson Williams.
Walbeck said he gives his players freedom to play the game, trusting they will make good decisions in key situations. Gimenez's sacrifice bunt served as an example of that.
"He was feeling that; that was his call," Walbeck said.
The manager added, "I want them to play, to have a feel for what they can do and what they can't do, and certainly I give them that option."
Gimenez is in his 10th pro season and reached the majors for two games with the Astros in 2006.
"He's a great player, very smart out there, very smart behind the plate," Curve pitcher Justin Wilson said. "He's a great clubhouse guy, and he does what we need to win.
"Hector, day in and day out is a leader, and it shows with what he does behind the plate, what he does at the plate. It's great to have him around."
Wilson (1-0) earned the victory in his Double-A debut, giving up one run on five hits in five innings while striking out four with one walk. The lefty is in just his second pro season after a stellar college career at Fresno State.
"When your hitters put up runs, it's a lot easier on the pitcher," Wilson said.
Richmond starter Craig Clark (0-1), a Penn State product (see Covering the bases), took the loss. The Curve added an insurance run in the fifth off reliever Craig Whitaker as Mercer smacked a two-out RBI single.
The Curve hitters have been delivering in in the clutch, with 12 of the team's 20 runs this season coming with two outs.
"It seems like we're getting those [big hits] every single night, and I think it complements our good pitching and defense," Walbeck said.
Key player: Curve C Hector Gimenez had two RBIs and a key sacrifice bunt.
Key play: Gimenez singled home two runs in the first for a 2-0 lead.
Key stat: Twelve of the Curve's 20 runs this season have come with two outs.
How they scored
Bottom 1st: d'Arnaud walked, Mercer walked, both scored on Gimenez single (2-0).
Top 4th: Crawford doubled, scored on Gillaspie single (2-1).
Bottom 4th: Durham doubled, scored on Harrison fielder's choice (3-1).
Bottom 5th: Negrych walked, scored on Mercer single (4-1).