The Eastern League's best team is in town this week, and the Curve will have to play a good, solid, all-around game for nine innings to win any of the three contests.
Putting together those type of quality efforts has been a big issue for the club all season, and it was again Tuesday night in a 5-1 loss to Portland before 4,522 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. The loss dropped the Curve to 24-39, and they now have the worst record in the EL.
"If we're going to beat a first-place team, we've got to play our best," Curve manager Carlos Garcia said.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
Altoona’s Gift Ngoepe chases Portland’s Derrik Gibson.
The Sea Dogs, who scored three runs in the first inning, are an outstanding all-around team and reached 20 games above .500 (42-22) with their win Tuesday. For some comparison, the dynamite 2010 Curve team that won the EL title was 41-23 at this same point in the season, a tad below Portland's terrific record.
The Sea Dogs lead the league in hitting (.289 average), rank second in pitching (3.52 ERA) and have the best road record (20-11). They do so many things well, and while the Curve have portions of games that they do the same, keeping it up for nine innings has been a challenge.
"That's why they're in first place," Garcia said of Portland's solid play. "They throw the ball over the plate, they make the other team swing and they catch it."
The Curve are in last place because they often struggle with fundamentals, such as moving runners over and capitalizing on mistakes.
Garcia addressed those things yet again in the postgame meeting Tuesday.
"Today is one of those days where development sometimes takes a step backwards," the manager said. "That game could have been closer than it was. I felt that we competed in and out and didn't buy into it."
Portland scored its three runs in the first on four hits against Curve starter Joely Rodriguez (3-5). The final run came home on an RBI double by Stefan Welch, who spent parts of the past two seasons with Altoona.
Lefty Brian Johnson (4-1) held the Curve to one run on four hits in six innings to win.
Portland's impressive record and position in the standings were news to Curve outfielder Keon Broxton, who said it doesn't matter what the other team does because his team still has to perform.
"I didn't know they were in first place until you told me," Broxton said. "A team is a team. No matter what, we've got to be able to compete and come out and do what we need to do. We had a lot of opportunities to score some runs, we just didn't get it done."
Designated hitter Matt Curry batted once and was pulled from the Curve lineup for not running hard to first base on an infield popup. Garcia has been consistent with that stance all season, with more than half a dozen situations of players getting pulled for similar reasons.
Key player: CF Derrik Gibson went 3-for-3 with two runs in the leadoff spot for Portland.
Key play: The Sea Dogs scored three runs in the first inning and were never threatened.
Key stat: The Curve now have the EL's worst record at 24-39.
How they scored
Top 1st: Gibson singled, scored on Swihart double (0-1); Marrero singled, scored on Coyle groundout (0-2); Welch double scored Swihart (0-3).
Top 3rd: Gibson singled, scored on Marrero single (0-4).
Top 6th: Coyle singled, scored on Chester single (0-5).
Bottom 6th: Maggi singled, scored on Broxton double play groundout (1-5).