Every minor league baseball player should take note of Aaron Thompson's unorthodox and totally-out-of-left-field call-up to the major leagues.
Thompson was the Curve's worst starting pitcher two-and-a-half months ago. He was struggling so badly that he was removed from Altoona's rotation.
Then he got even worse as a reliever for the Curve, with his ERA and most other key statistics taking a hit.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
The Curve’s Tony?Sanchez just misses the tag against Richmond’s Wes Hodges.
It's mind boggling, then, to think about what has happened to Thompson the past two days.
The 24-year-old lefty not only was called up to the major leagues Tuesday night - making him the most improbable of the 88 Curve players to reach the bigs - he then went out and blanked the hottest team in baseball, the Brewers, for 4 innings Wednesday afternoon to help the Pirates beat their biggest tormentor.
"The stars were aligned for him," Curve manager P.J. Forbes said after his team's 6-2 win over Richmond on Wednesday night before 6,811 fans at Blair County Ballpark.
Tonight: Altoona at Binghamton, 6:35 p.m.
Pitching matchups: Curve RHP Matt McSwain (2-0, 3.94) vs. B-Mets TBA
Pretty much the entire Curve team gathered in the clubhouse at BCB to watch Thompson make his major league debut. He allowed four hits, struck out one and walked two in the Bucs' 2-0 win at PNC Park.
All the Curve players surely were happy for their former teammate, who has a good reputation.
"Great kid, good in the clubhouse, everybody liked him," Curve pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said.
Many of the Altoona players also had to be somewhat in disbelief at what they were seeing, even if no one would admit that publicly.
How could this possibly be the same pitcher? Thompson got lit up in Double-A, posting a 4-7 record, 5.16 ERA, .307 opponents' batting average and 1.43 WHIP. Yet there he was shutting out a great hitting team like the Brewers.
It would have been understandable had the Pirates released Thompson after his struggles this season, just as the Washington Nationals did after he went 4-13 with a 5.80 ERA, .299 opponents' batting average and 1.59 WHIP for Harrisburg in 2010.
Instead, the Bucs promoted him to the majors, and he repaid them with a solid performance.
It should serve as a reminder to all minor leaguers that they could get an opportunity at any time.
"We've told these guys all year long until we're blue in the face, 'You never know what can happen,'" Whitehurst said. "Kids get frustrated, and that's the guys that get left behind.
"Anything can happen. Injury, spur of the moment deal, anything can happen. They need to understand that, especially at this level and at Triple-A."
The Pirates designated Thompson for assignment in late June, meaning they removed him from their 40-man roster. He then cleared waivers, meaning no other team wanted to pick him up and add him to its 40-man roster, so he remained with the Curve.
"I don't know for sure," Whitehurst said when asked why Thompson struggled with Altoona. "If I had to guess, he probably started to think, and usually when that happens things go awry. But we put him in the pen, some success, some not so good. But there's a lot of things you can't explain, why kids all of a sudden get put in that situation and do well."
Forbes had a theory on Thompson's troubles with the Curve.
"I think he lost some of his confidence while he was starting," the manager said. "I think the move to the bullpen was good because it got him back to attack mode. As a starter, he was really finesse, finesse, finesse, I've got to pitch five, I've got to pitch six. As a bullpen guy, you can just come in and blow and attack.
"When he had some success doing that again, I think it reestablished what he felt about his stuff. And a little confidence in your stuff can go a long way."
Whitehurst said Thompson regained some confidence with a strong relief outing at Portland on July 29. In his final two appearances for Altoona, he pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
Thompson's numbers didn't warrant a promotion to Triple-A, but sometimes veteran players get that opportunity for fill-in spots because organizations don't want to rush younger prospects. So Thompson got a shot with Indianapolis and made the most of it, giving up just one run on nine hits in 11 2/3 innings for an 0.77 ERA in three games (two starts).
"His first start in Triple-A went well, his second start in Triple-A went well, and there you go, you've got a lot of confidence," Forbes said.
"It's all about want, and it's all about timing. Aaron was throwing the ball well at the right time, it was his turn in the rotation at the right time. [Brian] Burres had just started, so he was out. [Justin] Wilson's been moved to the pen. Rudy [Owens] is hurt. [Brad] Lincoln's already up there."
So clearly an example of right place at the right time.
"There's a lot of luck involved," Whitehurst said of players getting opportunities. "They've got to think it could be tomorrow and go out every day and do the job and take care of the business at hand and be ready if the time presents itself. That's what happened to him."
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: Curve RHP Phil Irwin (7-4) gave up two runs on six hits with nine strikeouts for the win.
Key play: The Curve scored five runs in the seventh inning to take the lead.
Key stat: LHP Aaron Thompson is the 88th former Curve player to make it to the majors.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 1st: Marte singled, scored from third when ball got caught in catcher's chest protector (1-0).
Top 4th: Peguero singled, scored on Hodges sacrifice fly (1-1).
Top 7th: Stromsmoe solo homer (1-2).
Bottom 7th: T. Sanchez doubled, scored on Curry triple (2-2); Farrell single scored Curry (3-2); Marte single scored Farrell (4-2); Watts walked, scored along with Marte on Holt single (6-2).