Curve rally falls short

The Curve hadn’t played well and didn’t appear to have much chance of winning entering the bottom of the ninth inning Friday night, much like the situation for the parent club down the road in Pittsburgh.

Also just like the Pirates, Altoona came to life in its final at-bat to make things interesting.

But unlike the Bucs, who rallied to beat the Blue Jays on homers by former Curve stars Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte, the Double-A club couldn’t come up with the one more big hit it needed. The Curve stranded the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position in the ninth and fell to Akron, 5-4, before 2,735 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“That’s what we ask for,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said of having a chance to win late.

“We didn’t take advantage early in the game to set the tone but late in the game we made a charge. We were one hit away from celebrating right now.”

Alen Hanson doubled home two runs in the ninth to pull Altoona within 5-3. Gift Ngoepe then drove in a run with a groundout, the second out of the inning.

That brought up Stetson Allie with a runner at third, and Allie battled back from an 0-2 count to earn a walk. One of the Curve’s best hitters this season and last, Mel Rojas Jr., came up with a chance to tie it, and that turned into an opportunity to win it when Allie stole second base.

Rojas went 2-for-5, but he couldn’t deliver in that clutch situation as he lofted a short flyball to left to end the game against reliever Shawn Armstrong (third save).

“We had a good scenario,” Garcia said. “I know [Rojas is] going to put a good battle, won’t punch out and will put the ball in play. So I felt pretty good right there.”

Akron starter Cody Anderson (2-2) gave up one run in 6 innings for the win, and the RubberDucks pulled away from a 1-1 tie with two runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth off the Curve bullpen. Jhonathan Ramos (1-2) wound up taking the loss.

Curve starter Adrian Sampson gave up only one run and lowered his ERA to 1.53, but for the second straight outing he couldn’t contain his pitch count early in the game. Sampson was lifted after throwing 89 pitches in only 4 innings.

“He has to be more efficient,” Garcia said. “He has to pitch for early contact. Early in the game you have to pitch for contact, there’s no other way around it in order for him to be economic with his pitches.”

Eight of nine

It’s only happened about eight or nine times over the years, but the Pirates’ starting lineup Friday included eight former Curve players: C Tony Sanchez, P Gerrit Cole, 2B Neil Walker, SS Jordy Mercer, 3B Pedro Alvarez, LF Starling Marte, CF Andrew McCutchen, RF Jose Tabata.

There still has never been a game in which all nine starters were Curve alums. And it will be tough to have it happen this season because of first base, unless Andrew Lambo or Matt Hague is called up to play there.

Game recap

Key player: Akron SS Francisco Lindor went 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

Key play: Lindor’s two-run homer in the seventh gave the RubberDucks a 3-1 lead.

Key stat: Eight of the Pirates’ nine starters Friday were Curve alums.

How they scored

Bottom 4th: Allie walked, scored on Diaz single (1-0).

Top 5th: Holt reached on Cunningham error, scored on Lindor sacrifice fly (1-1).

Top 7th: Naquin reached on fielder’s choice, scored on Lindor two-run homer (1-3).

Top 8th: LaHair singled, scored on Myles single (1-4); Myles scored on Holt sacrifice fly (1-5).

Bottom 9th: Cunningham singled, Howard singled, both scored on Hanson double (3-5); Broxton singled, scored on Ngoepe groundout (4-5).