The Curve had hitting, pitching and fielding stars Saturday night, and manager Carlos Garcia heaped praise on all three of them.
Drew Maggi went 4-for-4 and singled home the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of Altoona's 4-3 win over Bowie before 5,882 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
"I was just trying to do a job," said Maggi, whose bouncer squeezed through to left field to drive home Jarek Cunningham for the decisive run. "That's what it's about - when the team needs you, you've got to do your best to come through."
Maggi's 4-for-4 night raised his average to .295, and he apparently drew some inspiration from his new walk-up music, which is from "The Godfather." Maggi also earned major props from his manager.
"The way he plays the game is showing those kids every day how the game's supposed to be played," Garcia said. "He is a reminder of how the integrity of the game is going to help them. If they can play halfway the way Maggi's played, they can be successful."
The Curve's enormous problems saving games have bitten nearly everyone in the bullpen at some point, but not Kenn Kasparek. He is 5-for-5 in save opportunities, while everyone else has gone a woeful 14-for-33.
Tonight: Bowie at Altoona, 6 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve LHP Tom Harlan (0-0, 2.70) vs. Baysox LHP Tim Berry (4-5, 3.89)
Kasparek came on in a tough save situation in the eighth inning and managed to escape to protect the 4-3 lead.
Bowie had runners at first and second with no outs when Kasparek relieved Nate Baker. Chris Marrero flew out to right fielder Josh Bell, and for some reason, Niuman Romero strayed too far from second base and was doubled off when Bell fired it to Maggi at shortstop for the tag.
Kasparek got out of the eighth and had a quick ninth to earn the save, and he lowered his ERA to 0.87.
"Big time. Big time," Garcia said of Kasparek's impact on the team of late. "He trusts himself. The whole team trusts him. We trust him. We know he is going to throw quality strikes, and whatever happens, happens. When you have somebody who is going to throw quality strikes, he is going to give you a chance to stop the bleeding."
Kasparek is a 6-foot-8 right-hander who throws from the side, and his length and release point make it very difficult to pick up the ball. Right-handers have an especially tough time as they're hitting just .146 off him.
"The right-handers hardly have a chance," Garcia said. "My concern was against left-handers because they can see him better because he's coming from outside. But the right-handers, they don't see the release point, so when they approach the ball, the ball is already in the hitting zone, and they can't be able to recognize what kind of pitch it is."
Gift Ngoepe started at shortstop and made two of the Curve's best defensive plays of the season. The first was when he raced into left field and caught a ball over his head basket style.
Ngoepe's second defensive gem came when he dove to his right and snared a hard line drive in the fourth inning. He went down hard on the play and injured his right shoulder/collarbone area.
Ngoepe was taken for X-rays, which Garcia said came back negative.
The manager then gave Ngoepe plenty of praise.
"For me, he is one of the best (defensive) shortstops I've seen in a long time in the minor leagues. He is big league ready defensively, no doubt about it," Garcia said. "He is very alert, he understands the hops on the ball, he moves well. If we need somebody right now to catch the ball in Pittsburgh, he is your guy."
Ngoepe has some work to do offensively, but he has improved in his second season at Double-A and is hitting .240.
Ngoepe was playing shortstop because Alen Hanson was benched yet again. Hanson failed to run out a popup Friday night and was pulled from the game, and he also sat out Saturday.
Hanson is a very talented hitting prospect, but he also has 27 errors at shortstop. There has been much speculation that he could have to move to second base at some point, but Garcia said he has been given no indication by the Pirates of any impending switch.
Baker (1-0) picked up the win for the Curve, while Bowie starter Zach Davies took the loss.
Key player: 2B/SS Drew Maggi went 4-for-4 with an RBI and a run.
Key play: Maggi's RBI single in the seventh gave the Curve the lead, and RHP Kenn Kasparek got out of a jam in the eighth to preserve it.
Key stat: Kasparek is 5-for-5 in saves, while the rest of the relievers have combined to go just 14-for-33.
How they scored
Bottom 1st: Maggi singled, scored on Davies wild pitch (1-0).
Bottom 2nd: Broxton solo homer (2-0).
Top 3rd: Yastrzemski walked, scored on Kang single (2-1); Romero singled, scored on Marrero double (2-2).
Top 4th: Rosa solo homer (2-3).
Bottom 4th: Allie singled, scored on Paulino sacrifice fly (3-3).
Bottom 7th: Cunningham reached on fielder's choice, scored on Maggi single (4-3).