A gift triple followed by a Gift squeeze bunt gave the Curve a win Friday night. Over the years, various Curve managers haven't liked to call for the squeeze play much. For whatever reasons, it just hasn't been a heavily used play for the franchise.
But Friday, the perfect squeeze scenario presented itself at the perfect time, and Gift Ngoepe dropped down a perfect bunt to lift Altoona to a 2-1 win over Richmond before 3,045 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
"I like those kind of calls," manager Carlos Garcia said. "When I manage in the winter league, I use it quite a bit."
Before Ngoepe had a chance to squeeze in the eighth inning, Richmond gave the Curve a gift to get the go-ahead runner to third base in a 1-1 game.
Alen Hanson hit a fly ball tailing down the right field line that would have gone for a single, but instead of taking it on one hop, right fielder Jarrett Parker tried to make a diving catch. The ball bounced past him all the way to wall, giving Hanson an easy triple with one out.
Ngoepe came up next, presenting an ideal squeeze opportunity.
Today: Richmond at Altoona, 1 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve LHP Joely Rodriguez (0-1, 7.00) vs. Flying Squirrels RHP Kyle Crick (1-0, 2.35)
"[He] is one of the best bunters we have, and it was a good situation to do it," Garcia said.
Richmond pulled its infield in, and Ngoepe took a first-pitch strike. He then got the squeeze call on the next pitch and, with Hanson racing home, Ngoepe dropped down a bunt between the plate and the mound.
Flying Squirrels pitcher Phil McCormick tried to toss home to catcher Eric Sim, but Hanson beat the throw for a 2-1 lead.
"I'm just getting ready to bunt any pitch that's thrown, whether it's a ball, in the dirt, I've got to try my best to foul tip it or do something," Ngoepe said of his mindset on the squeeze.
"There's a little bit of pressure, but those situations come, and you've just got to do your best and cope with the pressure and get it down."
Garcia likes to use the play as a manager, and somewhat surprisingly, he said he was never asked to drop down a squeeze bunt during his major league career.
The most important thing, Garcia said, is to forget that the runner is coming home.
"If you think about the runner, you're in the wrong state of mind," the manager said. "You've just got to think about bunting the ball. That's all.
"Everybody has a responsibility on that play. [The hitter's] responsibility is focusing on bunt the ball down or foul it off. If he misses that bunt, he's going to leave that runner out to dry, so that's all he can do is his part."
Ryan Beckman worked out of a jam in the ninth inning to earn his first save. The Flying Squirrels put runners at first and second with one out, and they both moved up a base on Parker's flyout to center.
Beckman slammed the door by striking out Ricky Oropesa on three pitches to end the game.
Jhonathan Ramos (1-1) won in relief for the Curve, who got five shutout innings Tyler Sample. The starter walked five but allowed only two hits and kept Richmond off the board.
Willy Garcia doubled and scored on a single by Elias Diaz in the second for a 1-0 Curve lead. Diaz went 2-for-3 to raise his average to .424, which ranks second in the Eastern League.
Ngoepe committed a costly error at second base in the sixth that helped Richmond pull even against reliever Emmanuel De Leon.
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: SS Alen Hanson went 2-for-4 and scored the winning run.
Key play: Hanson tripled to right with one out in the eighth, setting up 2B Gift Ngoepe's go-ahead squeeze bunt.
Key stat: The Curve had lost four in a row against Richmond before Friday's victory.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 2nd: Garcia doubled, scored on Diaz single (1-0).
Top 6th: Lollis singled, scored on Tomlinson sacrifice fly (1-1).
Bottom 8th: Hanson tripled, scored on Ngoepe squeeze bunt (2-1).