Curve continue hot streak
The record doesn’t show it, but the Curve are in the midst of the best stretch of baseball they’ve played this season.
They’re 50-66, but, since the All-Star break, they’re 13-5 and are one of the hottest teams in the Eastern League.
On Sunday night, Altoona swept their third series of the season, beating the Ricmond Flying Squirrels, 6-3, before 5,025 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. It’s their first sweep of anyone other than Harrisburg.
“We’ve been playing very good baseball, very fundamental,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “Defensively, we make some mistakes, but the pitching staff has been covering for us. We’ve been very good in the clutch, we’ve been very good executing the fundamental plays, and that put us in a good spot.”
The Curve entered the All-Star break at 37-61 and in dead last in the Eastern League Western Division. There is, though, a lot to be gained from playing their final 26 contests.
“You never know what’s going to happen in baseball,” shortstop Gift Ngoepe said. “If you don’t end up with the Pirates, maybe you end up with some other team that has been watching you on the side. There (are) many opportunities out there; it’s just how you see the opportunity.”
Ngoepe, along with outfielder Keon Broxton, are two of the players who have been with the Curve throughout the year. For them, it’s about finishing strong, no matter what the record is coming Labor Day.
“That’s what we got to do regardless of what happens,” Broxton said. “We’ve believed in ourselves, and stick with our approach, and stick with our plan, and it’s worked out for us.”
“We’re all here to finish strong, and we’ve come together as a team,” Ngoepe said. “We’re taking walks, and the other guy gets the base hit, we’ve got a lot of confidence in one another.”
That’s been a major difference compared to where the Curve could’ve been. This year they’ve been as low as 25 games below .500, and in May were on pace to win just 50 games.
They were also on pace to break the franchise record for most games under .500, and in one season. Those records are 26 and 80, respectively, and each mark was set in 2009.
“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Garcia said. “Early a lot of struggles, a lot of learning, a lot of teaching points, and now you can see the boomerang is coming around.
Broxton feel that this is just a sign that the team is starting to understand what it takes to win games.
“It’s starting to show that we are playing to our ability, and it’s really fun,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to know that we’re coming out here, and getting the job.”
The Curve and Flying Squirrels traded runs through the third inning, but when Mario Lisson tied the game for Richmond, Broxton ended up flipping over the fence in left-center field.
He stayed in the game, going 1-for-3 with a run scored.
Ngoepe put the game away on a RBI double, scoring Alen Hanson to put the Curve ahead 4-3 at that point.
Jhonathan Ramos (3-5) went two innings, striking out two and walking one, before picking up the win.
Edwin Quirarte (9-5) took the loss after pitching one inning, giving up two runs on three hits, with a walk and strikeout.
Kenn Kasparek allowed just one hit and had two strikeouts, before earning his 10th save.
Key player: SS Gift Ngoepe went 2-for-3 with a double and RBI.
Key play: Ngoepe’s RBI-double in the seventh was the game-deciding run.
Key stat: The Curve scored 13 runs off of three of the San Francisco Giants top pitching prospects that started this series (Crick 5, Blach 6, Blackburn 2).
How they scored
Top 1st: Stromsmoe singled, scored on Allie fielding error (0-1).
Bottom 1st: Hanson tripled, scored on Gamache sacrifice fly (1-1); Ngoepe singled, scored on Vasquez single (2-1).
Top 3rd: Lisson homered (2-2).
Bottom 7th: Broxton singled, scored on Brown grounder into double play (3-2); Hanson singled, scored on Ngoepe double (4-2).
Top 8th: Harris single, scored on Schroder sacrifice fly (4-3); Allie singled, Broxton intentionally walked, Allie scores on Paulino single, Broxon scores on throwing error by Schroder (6-3).
Covering The Bases
LEADING OFF: RHP Angel Sanchez made his Curve debut, after the Pirates claimed him off waivers on Thursday. He pitched five solid innings, allowing two runs on six hits, walked two and struck out three.
SAFE AT FIRST: OF Willy Garcia’s 13-game hitting streak came to an end with his 0-for-4 evening. His run ties Alen Hanson for the team’s longest streak.
STEALING SECOND: Not only did the Curve sweep Richmond, they also scored 13 runs off three starters who are among the Giants top 10 prospects according to Baseball America. The Curve scored five off top prospect Kyle Crick, six on their number eight prospect Ty Blach, and two Sunday off Clayton Blackburn who is number 10.
ROUNDING THIRD: Today is the club’s first off day of the month, before starting a six-game road trip to Trenton and Reading. They return home to face the Thunder for three games August 12-14.
HEADING HOME: Former Curve OF Mel Rojas Jr. smashed a walk off double in the 10th inning in Indianapolis’ win over Toledo Saturday.
Curve continue hot streak
Pat Ludwig has become more consistent on the mound, but Friday night, he wasn’t just contributing to his cause there.
He belted a two-run double in the fourth to power the Curve to a 7-3 win over Richmond before 6,250 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
“He helped himself with the two-RBI double,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “You don’t expect a pitcher to hit, and produce in that regard, but that would be a great contribution for his cause.”
The Curve had a runner at third when Flying Squirrels pitcher Ty Blach intentionally walked Jarek Cunningham. Ludwig smacked his first professional hit to right-center field between two outfielders.
“It was pretty exciting,” Ludwig said. “We’ve been taking batting practice every day since I’ve come back up here, and I finally got a good pitch to hit.
“Swing hard in case you hit, that’s what my dad always said.”
The fifth provided a scare for the right-hander as the Squirrels had the bases loaded, and Mario Lisson hit a bases-clearing double to left field. Gift Ngoepe came up with the biggest play of the night as he made a solid throw, getting Angel Villalona to end the inning.
“Gift is a gift at shortstop,” Garcia said. “That’s his natural position, and he will be alert in every situation. He’s got to enjoy what’s doing right now.”
Ludwig turned in a great performance on the mound, going six innings, allowing three runs – two earned – and walked three batters. He is 3-4 since joining the Curve with a 5.63 ERA, and retired the last five Squirrels batters he faced in order.
“He continued to make pitches, and throw a solid six innings,” Garcia said.
The Curve scored the game’s first four runs, starting with Kelson Brown’s RBI-single, scoring Willy Garcia in the third, and capped off by Ludwig’s double the next frame.
Richmond responded with their three-run rally in the fifth, but the Curve came right back with a two-run double by Willy Garcia to push the lead back to three.
“Gift comes up with a good back hand strong throw across the diamond, and then we go and put two on the board really quick. That changes the rest of the game from that point,” Ludwig said.
Willy added his club leading 16th home run, a solo shot, for insurance in the eighth for the game’s final score.
The Curve offense had one of the worst batting averages in the Eastern League to open the season, hitting a disappointing .235. That is a significant difference from their .294 mark in July, and their sixth overall .265.
“Offensively, the approach has been great, especially in the clutch,” Carlos Garcia said. “Two run single, two run double by Ludwig, he helped himself.
“The offense has been a lot better the second half of the season, and especially the last two weeks we’ve been putting it together, moving guys over.”
The bats have mustered 99 home runs, which is the second in the league.
Blach (7-6) took the loss and was shelled, giving up six runs on 10 hits, striking out and walking two.
Key Player: LF Willy Garcia went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, two doubles, and a home run.
Key Play: SS Gift Ngoepe’s assist on Angel Villalona’s groundout in the fifth, ended the Richmond rally in the fifth.
Key Stat: P Pat Ludwig’s RBI double in the fifth is his first professional base hit.
How they scored
Bot 3rd: Garcia doubled, scored on Brown single (1-0).
Bot 4th: Diaz doubled, Cunningham intentionally walked, both score on Ludwig double (3-0); Ludwig scored on Ngoepe single (4-0).
Top 5th: Stromsmoe walked, Blach hit by pitch, Tomlinson reached on fielding error, all score on Lisson double (4-3).
Bot 5th: Allie singled, Diaz singled, scored on Garcia double (6-3).
Bot 8th: Garcia homered (7-3).