Curve win home opener

When it looked as though the Curve’s 15th home opener was headed for extra innings Thursday night at Peoples Natural Gas Field, Harrisburg’s Jose Lozada delivered a gift to the 3,647 fans in attendance.

Appropriately, it was right to a man named Gift.

With the tying run on third and one out, Lozada hit a sharp grounder to Gift Ngoepe, who started a 6-4-3 double play that ended the game and gave Altoona a 5-4 win in its home opener.

“I just stay calm no matter where it is in the game,” Ngoepe said. “I don’t get hyped up because it’s the ninth inning. I just took it as a normal ground ball, and once they call the out, you can jump around and celebrate.”

The double play capped a good night for Ngoepe, who homered among his two hits. Despite going 2-for-3 Thursday, Ngoepe is hitting just .167 through the first seven games.

“Gift has occasional power,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “I saw that last year, and today he came through with a big run. He has to concentrate more on putting the ball in play and cut his swing down a little bit, but today he was huge for us.”

The Curve staked starting pitcher Casey Sadler to a 4-0 lead through three innings.

Andrew Lambo, playing in his first game since hitting for the cycle in Akron on Tuesday, had a two-run single in the bottom of the first inning. Jarek Cunningham doubled the lead with a two-run homer in the third.

“Jarek is healthy this year,” Garcia said. “The fact he’s healthy and able to play at 100 percent is a big reason he’s able to put up a good fight at the plate. He’s making solid contact.”

Cunningham missed a month last season with a wrist injury but finished Thursday’s game a triple shy of the cycle. He also drove in two runs and scored two more.

It turned out that Altoona needed each and every one of those runs.

Anthony Rendon got Harrisburg on the board in the fourth inning with a home run just over the outstretched arm of Lambo in left. Sadler allowed two more runs before leaving after six innings. The right-handed starter improved to 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA.

“Casey is a competitor,” Garcia said. “He maintains his composure on the mound, and he’s going to do a great job for us. He’s going to be a good one.”

The Curve improved to 4-3 and will have prized prospect Jameson Taillon on the mound tonight as Pittsburgh Steelers pro bowl center Maurkice Pouncey comes to Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“It’s good to be back home after a six-game road trip,” Garcia said. “To get the first win in the way we did, it was special.”

Through the first seven games, six of Altoona’s regular starters, Mel Rojas Jr., Cunningham, Matt Curry, Lambo, Alex Dickerson and Adalberto Santos are hitting at least .290. Santos didn’t play Thursday after leaving Tuesday’s game with an injured quad.

“We got a good team of guys,” Ngoepe said. “If we put everything together like we did tonight, and in the previous games we won, we could go all the way.”

Game recap

Key player: Jarek Cunningham finished 3-for-4 with a home run, double, two RBIs and he scored two runs.

Key play: Luis Sanz got Jose Lozada to ground into a double play with the tying run on third to end the game.

Key stat: Through seven games, the Curve already have nine homers.

How they scored

Bottom 1st: Jarek Cunningham doubled. Matt Curry singled. Both scored on Andrew Lambo single (2-0).

Bottom 3rd: Mel Rojas Jr. doubled. Cunningham homered. (4-0).

Top 4th: Anthony Rendon homered. Steven Souza Jr. singled, scored on Destin Hood groundout. (4-2).

Top 5th: Rick Hague doubled, scored when Brian Goodwin grounded into a double play. (4-3).

Bottom 6th: Gift Ngoepe homered (5-3).

Top 9th: Hood walked, scored on Hague single. (5-4).