Curve end year with loss

The Curve’s final record of 63-79 would indicate that this year’s team was lousy, although that really wasn’t the case.

They finished with the second-worst record in franchise history, barely avoiding 80 losses like the team had in 2009. And they finished with the second-worst record in the Eastern League, barely ahead of the 80 losses by Reading.

But for the most part, the Curve weren’t lousy. They were competitive night in and night out for pretty much the entire season, and their biggest flaw was that they were good enough to just barely lose.

It went on that way for months, and fittingly enough, that’s how the season ended Monday. The Curve and Akron went into extra innings before the Aeros prevailed, 4-2, in the 11th at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“No, I don’t feel like this team is 63-79,” manager Carlos Garcia said. “I think that this team could well have played over .500. Definitely the tools are there. But I don’t think I’m going to judge this ballclub on winning and losing because it’s not my job winning games.

“But at the same time, definitely with that kind of talent, they’ve got to learn how to win.”

That’s something this team never figured out.

“One day it’s the pitching, one day it’s the hitting, we could never match it up,” second baseman Jarek Cunningham said. “You have to do that to win games.”

Cunningham hit his team-leading 19th homer Monday, and Mel Rojas Jr. had an RBI single as Altoona built a 2-0 lead. Then a very costly error by one of the team’s top prospects, shortstop Alen Hanson, helped Akron tie the game at 2-2 in the seventh.

Those are the kind of mistakes that losing teams always seem to make, and the Curve made a ton of them all season.

“Today it was about making a routine play,” Garcia said. “That allowed them to tie the game and later on come back and win it.”

Akron scored two runs in the 11th off reliever Eliecer Navarro (4-8) for the victory. Austin Adams (3-2) won for the Aeros, and Jose Flores earned his 16th save.

“The talent’s there, and baseball is going to do that to you sometimes,” Curve outfielder Alex Dickerson said. “You’re going to have years like that.

“It’s just like the Pirates. They’ve been on the cusp, and now they’re there this year and are looking real good. It’s the same for the minor league system. I think it’s about to turn that corner and be a pretty dominant system.”

Pirates pitcher Jason Grilli, coming back from a forearm injury, made his second rehab start in three days for the Curve and pitched a scoreless inning. He struck out three – one reaching base on a wild pitch – gave up one hit and stranded runners at the corners while throwing 17 pitches (14 strikes).

“I felt good,” Grilli said before later adding, “I’m getting closer. Like I said, 85 percent if you want a percentage or number, that’s where I’m at.”

He felt no pain, and even though he’s scheduled to make another rehab appearance for Triple-A Indianapolis on Wednesday, Grilli is hoping he can skip that and return to the major league roster.

“That’s up for discussion,” he said, meaning he’s not sure if the Pirates will let him return just yet.

Grilli’s slider had great movement on it Monday, and the Double-A hitters didn’t have much chance against it.

“You get thrown into a big league game, a big league crowd, the big league lights, a big league hitter in the box, you get that other 15 percent from adrenaline,” Grilli said.

Monday’s game drew 4,095 fans, bringing the season total at PNG Field to 286,227 in 68 home dates. The average comes out to 4,209, a 2 percent decrease from last year’s figure of 4,295.

That’s the official number. Crunching the numbers another way, the Curve were dead on with 2012 from an attendance standpoint.

The preseason exhibition crowd against the Pirates was 10,116, which doesn’t count toward the attendance average. If that did count, the average would have been 4,294.8, or almost exactly what it was last year.

“In light of the fact that we had really a tough June – there was a lot of rain during that month, which is usually a bigger month for us – to recover like we did in July and August [was encouraging],” Curve general manager Rob Egan said. “Plus you add in the fact that we had such a huge opener with the exhibition game.

“In terms of the overall season, it was very much a success.”

Game recap

Key player: Akron RF Carlos Moncrief went 2-for-3 with a tying two-run single in the seventh and go-ahead RBI single in the 11th.

Key play: Curve SS Alen Hanson made a crucial error with two outs in the seventh, opening the door for Akron to score twice and tie the game.

Key stat: The Curve’s final record of 63-79 matches the second worst in franchise history, avoiding the record 80-loss mark by one game.

How they scored

Bottom 3rd: Tejeda singled, scored on Rojas Jr. single (1-0).

Bottom 5th: Cunningham solo homer (2-0).

Top 7th: Rodriguez doubled, Moncrief walked, both scored on Lawson single (2-2).

Top 11th: Moncrief doubled, scored on Lawson single (2-3); Abraham walked, scored on Wallace sacrifice fly (2-4).