By Cory Giger
It's taken Stetson Allie only three weeks to add his name to the short list of great sluggers in Curve history, and his past three days have been about as impressive as anything the franchise has seen.
Allie belted a three-run homer in the first inning Thursday night, his fourth long ball in the past three games. He already has six home runs in just 16 games, leading the Eastern League, and he established a franchise record this week by reaching base in 10 consecutive plate appearances.
"We know he's got the power, we know he's capable to get himself locked in where he is right now and get a good at-bat," Curve manager Carlos Garcia said of the former pitcher turned first baseman.
Allie's first-inning homer carried Altoona to a 6-1 win and four-game sweep over Harrisburg before 2,223 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Allie hit one homer Tuesday and two on Wednesday (including a grand slam) before Thursday's blast.
Tonight: Altoona at Akron, 6:35 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve LHP Joely Rodriguez (0-2, 6.75) vs. RubberDucks RHP Gabriel Arias (2-1, 1.80)
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: RHP Tyler Sample had an impressive outing Thursday, pitching six shutout innings and allowing only two hits with eight strikeouts and two walks. Sample (2-0) lowered his ERA to 1.00, which leads the Eastern League. Senators starter Matt Purke (0-4) took the loss. He walked the first two batters he faced and fell behind 3-1 on 1B Stetson Allie, who then hit a three-run homer.
SAFE AT FIRST: You have to give credit where it's due for a team that wins. But you also have to take away credit sometimes when the opponent is not very good. And the Harrisburg team that just got swept by the Curve is a bad ballclub right now. The Senators have the Eastern League's worst record at 4-14, and their team ERA is an abysmal 5.26, also last in the league. Wednesday's 10-9 game was close, but the Curve outscored the Senators in the other three games, 23-2.
STEALING SECOND: RF Willy Garcia had a big game Thursday, going 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Garcia got off to a slow start, but the three hits raised his average to .227.
ROUNDING THIRD: RHP Tyler Waldron, who just joined the team from Single-A Bradenton, pitched a stellar eighth inning to get out of a jam. Harrisburg scored a run and had runners at the corners with no outs against RHP Joan Montero. Waldron then came on and struck out the side to keep the score 5-1.
HEADING HOME: The Curve head to Akron tonight for a three-game series, followed three games at Erie starting Monday. A win tonight would put them above .500 at 10-9. The team has not been above .500 since it was 4-3 last season.
"With my approach and sticking to it, the ball does look bigger," Allie said. "I'm hitting pitches that I want to hit, and it's a lot easier."
Allie's week is the closest thing the Curve have seen to the incredible "Big Country weekend" display put on in 2005 by Brad Eldred. The legendary slugger homered in six consecutive games and capped his remarkable Curve career with two homers in his final game before going to Triple-A.
While no one probably will ever again do what Eldred did - a pro-rated Double-A record of 30 home runs in only 60 games between 2004-05 - Allie certainly appears capable of breaking one vaunted Curve record.
Adam Hyzdu hit a single-season franchise-best 31 homers in 2000 on his way to Eastern League MVP honors. If Allie remains in Double-A all season - and there's a good chance he will since he still has so little experience as a minor league hitter - then he very well could best Hyzdu's mark.
With six in 18 team games, Allie is on pace for 47 homers.
Most impressive has been the location of his blasts. He's hit four of the six to center or right-center, and Thursday he had a solid approach on an inside fastball and pulled it down the left field line.
"He knows he can drive the ball out of the ballpark with solid contact," Garcia said. "He doesn't have to go get it, he's just got to let the ball travel and do what he's doing best."
"The biggest thing for him is just keep it simple," hitting coach Ryan Long said. "He tries to stay on one pitch in one part of the zone, that's usually a fastball and over, and that's kind of what he's done.
"He's been focused on that specific area so that when he's gotten those pitches, he's hit them, he hasn't fouled them off, he's taken advantage of it and he's put them in play. When he does, with his strength, they go a long way."
Reaching base in 10 consecutive plate appearances - seven hits with three walks - also showed Allie's overall ability at the plate, not just the power. His streak ended in the fifth inning Thursday.
"Every single at-bat, every single pitch, he knows what he's looking for and he has enough trust to be able to put a good swing in the area he's looking for," Garcia said.
There will be challenges, of course, for Allie as the season goes on. First, he won't be facing Harrisburg's pitching every game. The Senators have a very poor pitching staff, ranking last in the EL with a 5.26 ERA, and Allie and the Curve cashed in with 33 runs in the four games.
Pitchers also will adjust to Allie the more they see and analyze what he's doing, then it will be up to him to make all the proper adjustments. Most of what he's done so far as has been impressive as he's hitting .298 with 16 RBIs and an 1.122 OPS.
Strikeouts figure to be an issue for him. But the Pirates will live with a 25 percent rate (14 times in 57 at-bats), as long as he's driving the ball and getting his walks, which he's been doing with 10.
Still, the power to all fields is what makes Allie most dangerous. Plus, the fact that he's crushing balls out to right-center at spacious PNG Field during cold games in April makes one wonder what he can do when the weather heats up and the ball starts to carry even more.
"He can take an easy swing and hit balls out to center and right, which makes him more dangerous," Long said.
Key player: RHP Tyler Sample pitched six shutout innings for the win, striking out eight with two walks.
Key play: 1B Stetson Allie hit a three-run homer in the first.
Key stat: Allie has six homers overall and four in the past three games.
How they scored
Bottom 1st: Hanson walked, Ngoepe walked, both scored on Allie three-run homer (3-0); Rojas Jr. walked, scored on Garcia triple (4-0).
Bottom 5th: Rojas doubled, scored on Garcia double (5-0).
Top 8th: Hague walked, scored on Dykstra single (5-1).
Bottom 8th: Diaz walked, scored on Cunningham triple (6-1).