As first impressions go, Zack Thornton - and that's Zack with a "k," not an "h" - made a terrific one in front of his new Curve teammates in just his second Double-A game Saturday night.
The Curve players didn't know Thornton, and he didn't know them after coming to the organization in a November trade with the A's for major league reliever Chris Resop. But Thornton figures to become a central part of the team in the closer role going forward, and he proved why Saturday.
"I live for those moments," Thornton said after getting out of a bases-loaded, no outs jam to preserve a 5-3 win in the second game of a doubleheader against Richmond.
The Flying Squirrels won the first game, 5-0, before 4,604 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Thornton made sure the Curve came away with a split, showing no fear under the toughest adversity a reliever can face.
Charlie Cutler and Kelson Brown delivered big hits to help Altoona build a 5-2 lead after three innings, and David Bromberg turned in five solid innings. Bromberg ran into trouble in the sixth, giving up a run and departing with runners at first and third with no outs.
With the game on the line, Curve manager Carlos Garcia turned to a pitcher in Thornton he knew very little about. The reliever just joined the team from high-A Bradenton, and Garcia got a very favorable scouting report from Marauders manager Frank Kremblas.
Today: Richmond at Altoona, 1 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve RHP Jameson Taillon (2-4, 3.26) vs. Flying Squirrels LHP Chris Gloor (1-1, 6.75)
"Frank said he is not afraid of being in tough situations, and he was closing for them," Garcia said.
Thornton, who was 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA and six saves for Bradenton, showed some nerves as he started off with a walk to Mark Wagner to load the bases with no outs in a 5-3 game.
Thornton didn't flinch, however, and found a way to get out of the inning with no further damage. He retired Andrew Susac on an infield popup, got Javier Herrera on a comebacker that led to a forceout at the plate and finished off the inning by striking out Joe Panik looking.
"It's a great feeling," Thornton said of escaping the jam, "especially with bases loaded and no outs in a two-run ballgame."
"It tells me he has a lot of guts because he wasn't afraid to throw the ball over the plate," Garcia said.
There really isn't even a record of Zack Thornton in minor league baseball because his name has always been misspelled as "Zach."
"Going on four years now," he said. "Yeah, my name is Zackary, but I spell it with a 'k,' and all throughout those years it's been Zach everywhere you go. And finally [the Pirates] took care of it."
One guy who did know Thornton already is Curve outfielder Andrew Lambo, who's from the same area in California.
"I went to Thorney's prom - his senior year and my junior year," Lambo said. "He knew my buddy that went to my high school real well, and somebody needed a date and I just filled in."
Thornton appeared in one Double-A game in 2011 and spent all of 2012 in high-A. Strangely, his friend Lambo is in his sixth Double-A season, but Thornton (25) is actually older than Lambo (24).
"He's got good stuff," Lambo said. "First guy [he faced] he seemed a little nervous, adrenaline's pumping, but he slowed his tempo down and did good."
Bromberg (1-4) won his first game, while Taylor Rogers (1-2) took the loss. Brown went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and Cutler put the Curve ahead with an RBI double in the third.
Craig Westcott (2-3) won the opener for Richmond, while Casey Sadler (4-3) took the loss for the Curve, who were shut out on five hits.
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker played the entire first game and part of the second as he continued his rehab from a lacerated finger. Walker had hoped to rejoin the Pirates on Saturday in New York, but the organization decided to keep him in Double-A after Friday's Curve game was rained out.
Walker is scheduled to play all nine innings today for Altoona, then rejoin the Pirates on Monday. He went 1-for-3 with a single and an error in the first game and 1-for-2 with a single in the second game.
"Of course I wanted to join the team for [today's] game with it being the first day to come off the DL, but I would have ended up going cold turkey with no left-handed at-bats," Walker, a switch-hitter, said. "That was important for all of us. I got five good [left-handed] at-bats, and I'm just going to stay here [today] and get some more."
Key players: SS Kelson Brown went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and RHP Zack Thornton got out of a bases-loaded jam to help the Curve win the second game. CF Ryan Lollis had three RBIs for Richmond in the opener.
Key plays: Lollis' three-run homer sparked Richmond in game one, and Thornton's bases-loaded escape preserved game two.
Key stat: Reserves Brown and C Charlie Cutler are both hitting .318.
How they scored
Top 2nd: Parker solo homer (0-1).
Top 3rd: Westcott walked, scored on Panik single (0-2).
Top 4th: Parker reached on Walker error, Adrianza singled, both scored on Lollis three-run homer (0-5).
Bottom 1st: Vasquez singled, scored on Lambo sacrifice fly (1-0).
Top 2nd: Parker walked, scored on Rogers single (1-1).
Bottom 2nd: Brown singled, scored on Vasquez single (2-1).
Top 3rd: Panik walked, scored on Adrianza double (2-2).
Bottom 3rd: Cunningham doubled, scored on Cutler double (3-2); Welch walked, scored along with Cutler on Brown double (5-2).
Top 6th: Parker walked, scored on Lollis single (5-3).