ERIE - The Curve bullpen imploded once again Monday afternoon, continuing a season-long trend that has basically killed the club's chances of sustaining any level of success.
Altoona gave away a late-inning lead for the third straight game, losing when Erie scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth for a 4-3 victory at Jerry Uht Park. The Curve bullpen blew a save for the third straight day, and now the club has 10 blown saves, compared to only eight conversions.
It doesn't matter how well a team plays for most of the day if the guys at the back end of the bullpen don't do their job, and that has been the Curve's biggest issue this season.
The team once again has matched its season high at 10 games below .500. Had they held on to win the past three games, the Curve instead would be 23-27 with six consecutive victories.
Just to show how odd the blown save statistic is, the fact that it went to lefty Jhonathan Ramos on Monday is the definition of unfair.
Emmanuel De Leon came on for the Curve in the eighth inning and was able to get through one frame protecting a 3-2 lead. But De Leon fell apart in the ninth.
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: The Curve coaching staff made a peculiar, and ultimately costly, decision when it lifted RHP Nick Kingham after seven innings Sunday. Kingham was having a very good day, giving up two runs on five hits, and he had thrown only 82 pitches (55 strikes). He could have made it through another inning and, unless he struggled, still would have been under 100 pitches.
SAFE AT FIRST: The Pirates just don't take many chances with pitchers in the minors, even to the degree where they can justify taking a guy out after only 82 pitches in seven innings. Kingham is the Curve's best pitching prospect, and clearly the coaches didn't seem to think extending him another inning was worth it. When it comes to development, whether others think it makes sense or not, that's how the Pirates operate.
STEALING SECOND: Had Kingham made it through the eighth inning, it would have meant only a one-inning save opportunity for RHP Emmanuel De Leon. But De Leon was asked to go two innings, and he wasn't up to the task as he ran into big trouble in the ninth before leaving with the bases loaded and no outs.
ROUNDING THIRD: Erie had lost seven in a row before coming back to win each of the final three games in the series.
HEADING HOME: The Curve now head to Richmond for three games. They return home Friday.
- Cory Giger
The reliever gave up a leadoff single to Steven Moya and another to Aaron Westlake to put runners at the corners with no outs. He then walked Dean Green to load the bases.
De Leon, for all intents and purposes, blew the save.
Curve manager Carlos Garcia called upon Ramos to try and get out of the toughest possible situation, a bases-loaded, no-out jam with a slim one-run lead on the road. Ramos couldn't do it as he hit Corey Jones to force in Moya with the tying run.
The next batter popped out on the infield, then Jamie Johnson lifted a sacrifice fly to left that scored Westlake to win the game.
De Leon (0-1) did suffer the loss, while Kenny Faulk (1-2) won in relief for Erie.
The late-inning collapse by the Curve wasted a strong outing from Nick Kingham, who allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings. (See Covering the bases for more on the scenario surrounding Kingham's departure.)
Alen Hanson had given the Curve a chance to win with a solo homer in the sixth inning for a 3-2 lead. Altoona had trailed 2-0 before rallying with two runs in the fifth.
Key player: RF Steven Moya went 3-for-4 with a homer and scored the tying run in the ninth.
Key play: Moya and 1B Aaron Westlake opened the ninth with singles to put runners at first and third to give Erie a golden opportunity in its final at-bat.
Key stat: The Curve have blown 10 saves while converting only eight, and they've blown a save each of the past three days.
How they scored
Bottom 2nd: Moya solo homer (0-1).
Bottom 3rd: Jones solo homer (0-2).
Top 5th: Howard doubled, scored on Diaz single (1-2); Diaz scored on Jones error (2-2).
Top 6th: Hanson solo homer (3-2).
Bottom 9th: Moya singled, scored on Jones hit by pitch with bases loaded (3-3); Westlake singled, scored on Johnson sacrifice fly (3-4).