Bullpen blows late lead again

MANCHESTER, N.H. – There’s only so much the majority of players on a baseball team can do to win a game, but if the bullpen is historically bad, victories are going to be very, very difficult to come by.

The Curve bullpen has been just that this season – historically bad.

Altoona blew a save opportunity for the fourth consecutive game Thursday night, squandering a three-run lead in the ninth inning at New Hampshire. That’s now 14 blown saves, while the team has converted only 12 save opportunities.

The bullpen is suspect enough in regulation, so it’s no surprise that if games go extra innings the Curve have very little chance to win. The team dropped to 0-7 in extra-inning games as the Fisher Cats won in walk-off fashion in the 11th, 7-6, at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

Altoona is now 26-43 for the worst record in the Eastern League. Of the 14 blown saves, the Curve rebounded to win four of the games, but that’s still 10 losses that could have been victories.

Had Altoona won, say, eight of those 10, the team’s record would be 34-35, just one game below .500.

The Curve blew a save in all three games in the series at New Hampshire, plus one in their last home game Sunday against Reading. Prior to this stretch, the team hadn’t blown a save since doing so in three straight games at Erie from May 24-26, although it didn’t have many chances since the sting of those three crushing losses ignited what turned into a 10-game losing streak.

The Curve carried a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth Thursday, but Quinton Miller blew the save by allowing three runs. Mike McDade singled home the tying runs with two outs.

Altoona had a chance to take the lead with a runner at third and two outs in the 11th, and Elias Diaz put up a good at-bat seeing 11 pitches before grounding out to end the inning.

Miller (1-2) was still pitching in the bottom of the 11th and, reaching 60 pitches, he wore down as New Hampshire won it. The Fisher Cats loaded the bases with one out, and Andy Burns singled to left to bring home Kevin Nolan with the game winner.

John Anderson (1-0) won in relief for New Hampshire.

The Curve built a 4-1 lead after three innings, thanks largely to a three-run homer by Jarek Cunningham in the second. New Hampshire pulled within 4-3, but Altoona stretched the margin back to 6-3 and appeared to be on its way to winning.

Then again, the way the bullpen has performed this season, no lead seems to be safe.

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: 1B Mike McDade went 2-for-5 with three RBIs for New Hampshire.

Key play: McDade’s two-run single tied it at 6-6 with two outs in the ninth.

Key stat: The Curve have blown a save in four straight games and have 14 blown saves on the season.

SUBHD: How they scored

Bottom 1st: Wilson singled, scored on McDade single (0-1).

Top 2nd: Diaz singled, Garcia singled, both scored on Cunningham three-run homer (3-1).

Top 3rd: Maggi doubled, scored on Broxton single (4-1).

Bottom 6th: Crouse walked, scored on Newman double (4-2); Murphy single scored Newman (4-3).

Top 7th: Cunningham, walked, scored on Hanson single (5-3).

Top 9th: Ngoepe doubled, scored on Broxton sacrifice fly (6-3).

Bottom 9th: Nolan doubled, scored on Burns sacrifice fly (6-4); Wilson singled, Berti walked, both scored on McDade single (6-6).

Bottom 11th: Nolan walked, scored on Burns single (6-7).