Rojas, Sadler help Curve to first win
ERIE — Mel Rojas Jr. had already ignited the game’s most important sequence in the first inning, then he enjoyed a rare thrill later in the evening to help the Curve win their first game of the season.
Rojas doubled to open the game, the first of five consecutive hits that helped Altoona score three runs. That fast start paved the way for a 4-1 win over Erie before 1,006 fans on a cold night at Jerry Uht Park.
“It helps us a lot,” Rojas said of the big first inning. “The pitcher goes out there with a lot of confidence, and if he feels comfortable, it makes things a lot easier for him and the whole team.”
Casey Sadler watched Erie score 10 runs on 12 hits in Thursday’s opener, but in his Double-A debut, Sadler had his way against that same SeaWolves lineup. The right-hander pitched five innings and allowed only one run on six hits with three strikeouts and one walk.
“Sinkers down,” Sadler said of his game plan. “After watching them [Thursday] night, they’re a bunch of free swingers. I figured we could get some contact early and let them just put it on the ground and get themselves out.”
Altoona led 3-0 in the fourth when Rojas delivered the highlight of the evening with an inside-the-park home run, the first for the Curve in five years. Rojas drilled a fly ball to deep center, and Erie’s Daniel Fields got his glove on it before crashing into the wall and dropping it.
“At first I thought he caught the ball,” said Rojas, who slowed up briefly at that point.
Fields couldn’t get up after crashing into the wall, and with left fielder Tyler Collins a good bit away from the play, it was clear as he was rounding second base that Rojas was going to turn it into an inside-the-park homer.
“As soon as I saw the ball drop, I was just thinking three, three, three,” Rojas said. “Then I saw the manager [Carlos Garcia] waving me home, and I said, well, I’ve got a shot, I’m going hard no matter what.”
Rojas had 12 triples last season for Single-A Bradenton, so he’s no stranger to chugging hard into third base. But it’s so rare for a hitter to get waved all the way home, and since it’s never happened to Rojas during his pro career, he was loving it.
“As soon as I was about to round third base, I was getting excited,” he said. “I was, whoa, I’m going for my first inside-the-park home run. It felt great.”
Fields was shaken up on the play but was able to stay in the game.
The top four hitters in the Curve lineup — Rojas, Jarek Cunningham, Matt Curry and Andrew Lambo — each had two hits, as did Carlos Paulino in the seven spot. Curry and Lambo had RBI singles in the first, and Paulino walked with the bases loaded for a 3-0 lead against Erie starter Patrick Cooper (0-1).
“It’s huge for the whole team, and coming off a loss [Thursday] night we wanted to get on the board early,” Curry said of the big first inning.
Curry added he feels great about the top of the Curve order, which collectively is off to a fast start.
“If a pitcher can get through us we just tip our caps,” Curry said. “But he’s not going to get through us very often. We can really hit, and I have faith in us.”
Sadler (1-0), who had a 3.73 ERA for Bradenton last year, used the early lead to his advantage and turned in an impressive Double-A debut.
“That doesn’t surprise me from Casey,” said Garcia, who managed Sadler at Bradenton. “We have some history from last year. He is a competitor and throws the ball over the plate. We understand we have to be ready to play defense behind him.”
Tim Alderson followed Sadler and threw three perfect innings, striking out four, then Luis Sanz worked the ninth for the save and the Curve’s first victory.
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: RHP Casey Sadler allowed only one run on six hits in five innings to win his Double-A debut.
Key play: The Curve opened the game with five straight hits to help build a 3-0 lead.
Key stat: CF Mel Rojas Jr. hit the first inside-the-park homer of his career and first for the Curve in five years.
SUBHD: How they scored
Top 1st: Rojas doubled, scored on Curry single (1-0); Cunningham singled, scored on Lambo single (2-0); Paulino bases-loaded walk scored Curry (3-0).
Top 4th: Rojas inside-the-park homer (4-0).
Bottom 4th: Collins reached on fielder’s choice, scored on McCann single (4-1).