Zach Duke will return to the mound at Blair County Ballpark on Monday for a rehab appearance, six years after dominating Eastern League hitters for a fantastic Curve team.
That 2004 squad finished 85-56 and lost to New Hampshire in the Eastern League Championship Series, marking the franchise's only appearance in the league finals.
That team has always been considered the best in Curve history. Until this year.
Mirror file photo by Gary M. Baranec
Zach?Duke pitches against Erie in the 2004 Eastern League divisional playoffs.
Now there's a debate.
Getting one thing out of the way first: The 2004 Curve squad during the month of August was, without question, the best we've ever seen.
From Brad Eldred bombing home run after home run and driving in 50 runs, to Duke baffling hitters, that team during that month would beat any other Curve squad from any point during the first 12 seasons.
But considering everything from opening day on, right now the nod would go to this year's club.
After 81 games in 2004, the Curve were 50-31. This year's team is 52-29 and has the best record in all of professional baseball.
The '04 club got off to an 11-12 start, then caught fire under manager Tony Beasley.
This year's team has never struggled at any point, getting off to a 7-1 start and rolling over EL competition.
Offensively, the 2004 squad gets the edge. That team featured Jeff Keppinger hitting .400 in late June, Josh Bonifay belting clutch homers and Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth carrying the top of the order. Once Eldred came on board, the offense was phenomenal.
This year's team gets the edge from a pitching standpoint. All five starters this season have a legitimate chance to pitch in the majors, and Rudy Owens and Bryan Morris have a chance to be special.
Other than Duke, the '04 team had only one starter do anything in the majors - Ian Snell - while the rest of the rotation for most of the year included Landon Jacobsen, Mike Connolly, Bryan Bullington and Bobby Bradley.
This year's bullpen also is better than the one in 2004. Daniel Moskos, who's now in Triple-A, was lights out, and Michael Dubee has been superb, as well. Derek Hankins and Tony Watson also have excelled.
It's a tough call, and with plenty of season left, things may change. With Moskos and outfielder Alex Presley gone, this year's team still has to prove it can win at this kind of pace with others stepping up.
The 2004 club topped out at 30 games above .500. This year's team has a very good chance to beat that, but there won't be any Eldreds or Dukes coming up in the second half to help out.
The most important thing won't be known until September.
The 2004 club couldn't deliver the first championship in franchise history, so this year's team can cement its legacy by doing so.
Then there will be no debate.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.