The resolve of this Curve team has been its biggest strength, to the point where a week after the club looked dead in the water, now it's right back in the hunt for a playoff spot.
"They have been resilient all year, and they continue to be," manager P.J. Forbes said after his club's fifth straight win, an 8-3 decision over Trenton on Sunday night before 5,757 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Altoona lost eight in a row from July 31 to Tuesday, a badly timed skid that looked like it would crush the team's playoff chances. But the five straight wins have moved the Curve back to within three games of Bowie for the wild-card berth in the Western Division with 22 games to go.
"It's huge, especially in August, to have that kind of comeback," second baseman Jarek Cunningham said. "It shows a lot about all the guys, and the pitchers have picked us up enormously."
There's bad news and good news for Altoona coming up.
First the bad: The Curve, who are off tonight, head out for a nine-game road trip that starts Tuesday at Portland, and they are a woeful 21-37 away from home (compared to a superb 38-24 at home).
Next game: Tuesday at Portland, 7 p.m.
"Now they've got to find a way to be resilient on the road," Forbes said. "That's been our Achilles heel all year."
Now the good news: Portland is just 55-65 overall (although 32-25 at home), while New Hampshire is 48-73 overall (19-38 at home). So the Curve have an opportunity in the next six games to stay hot before going to Trenton (70-50) to close the road trip.
"We haven't talked about what we've done on the road," Cunningham said. "We're just trying to carry over what we've done here. If we can take it onto the road that's going to be huge for us."
The team will get to enjoy a special treat tonight in Portland on its day off. The club departed on the 10-hour bus trip late Sunday night, and the players will take part in a steak and lobster team dinner this evening.
The Pirates reward their minor league affiliates with financial bonuses when they perform well in various categories throughout the season, and Forbes said the club has saved up that money to pay for tonight's team dinner.
"It's a chance to build a little camaraderie," Forbes said.
The manager will be looking for his team to get off to a good start in Tuesday's road opener.
"The first game is going to tell me a lot because these guys feed off each other and feed off momentum," he said.
The Curve swept the Eastern League's best team over the weekend, taking all three against a Trenton club that's on top in the Eastern Division. Thunder manager Tony Franklin has enjoyed a lot of success in the EL over the years - he's won two titles and lost to Altoona in the 2010 championship series - and he's been impressed by the Curve late in the season.
"They're doing all the right things," Franklin said. "It all starts with the guy on the mound, and they're pitching well, no question about it. They pitched pretty well against us over at our place [in getting swept in three close games], and we were fortunate enough to win some games. But it begins with pitching, and they're not making many mistakes and getting timely hitting."
The Curve got a lot of timely hitting Sunday as they scored twice in the first, once in the second and broke it open with five runs in the fifth for an 8-1 lead. Cunningham and Santos each went 3-for-4, and Oscar Tejeda had a pair of RBI doubles to pace the offense.
Brandon Cumpton (11-9) gave up three runs in 5 2/3 innings for the win, while Trenton starter Dellin Betances (3-2) allowed eight runs in four-plus innings.
Forbes knows that "there's no margin for error now" with a three-game deficit and only 22 games to play. Making things even tougher, the Curve have no more games left against Bowie and, along with having to play well themselves, will need some help from other teams against the Baysox.
Altoona dropped the first two games in a series against Bowie on Monday and Tuesday, then bounced back to win the final two games to start the five-game winning streak.
The players know full well where they are in the standings and would like nothing more than to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs over the final three weeks.
"Starting when Bowie was here, that's been in the back of our minds," Cunningham said. "We want to get to the playoffs, we want to win, so it's definitely in our minds."
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: RF Adalberto Santos went 3-for-4 with two runs, an RBI and stolen base.
Key play: The Curve broke it open with five runs in the fifth inning, capped by 2B Jarek Cunningham's two-run triple.
Key stat: The Curve have won five straight and are three games behind Bowie in the playoff race.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 1st: Santos doubled, scored on Curry single (1-0); Tejeda double scored Curry (2-0).
Bottom 2nd: Cunningham singled, scored on Cutler single (3-0).
Top 4th: Adams singled, scored on Z. Almonte double (3-1).
Bottom 5th: Welch walked, scored on Santos single (4-1); Tejeda double scored Santos (5-1); Curry singled, scored on Marrero single (6-1); Cunningham triple scored Tejeda and Marrero (8-1).
Top 6th: Adams hit by pitch, scored on Z. Almonte two-run homer (8-3).