Curve eliminated despite Waddell

AKRON, Ohio – For all intents and purposes, the Curve threw a no-hitter for nine innings Sunday night – and yet still lost an elimination game to have their season come to an end.

“It’s just a hard one to swallow,” outfielder and team MVP Barrett Barnes said.

Akron ended a scoreless tie with a run in the 10th inning for a 1-0 win at Canal Park and 3-1 series victory over Altoona in the Western Division series. The Curve have never beaten Akron in the playoffs and were eliminated by their longtime nemesis for the fourth time in 18 years (also 2003, ’05 and ’06).

Mike Papi doubled with one out in the 10th off reliever Brett McKinney, and Eric Haase followed with a single to left that brought home the winning run.

The Curve managed only one hit in getting shut out.

“It was a good game,” manager Joey Cora said. “That’s the way it goes.”

Actually, it had the makings of a historic game, even if the final stats say otherwise.

Both Altoona and Akron had just one hit apiece through nine scoreless innings. The RubberDucks’ lone hit was a hard shot in the fifth off the glove of third baseman Eric Wood that probably should have been ruled an error.

“It was an error,” admitted Wood, who tried to snare it on one hop to his right.

“I thought it was an error, no doubt,” Curve manager Joey Cora said.

Had the call been different, it would have meant nine no-hit innings for Brandon Waddell (the first seven) and McKinney (eighth and ninth).

“A win would have been better,” Waddell said after his brilliant outing.

The lefty, who’s known as big-game Brandon after his storied career at Virginia and College World Series success, did everything he could have done to help the Curve keep their season alive.

“We had a lot of confidence in him because he’s been in that situation before,” Cora said. “Last year he was pitching the last game in the College World Series. We knew that nerves weren’t going to be an issue with him. Today he brought it big time, and so did McKinney.”

Waddell departed after seven innings and 103 pitches, and McKinney followed with two scoreless innings, striking out four. Curve relievers haven’t gone three innings much this season, save for rare instances, but Cora sent McKinney back out for a third frame in the 10th.

“Everybody was available, it’s just he was pitching well and the pitch count wasn’t that (high), and he was dealing,” Cora said. “He got one out, and he left a breaking ball out over the plate for Papi and then it was Haase.”

Akron’s DH, Haase delivered a two-run go-ahead double in Game 1 in Altoona as the RubberDucks stole a victory with six runs in the seventh inning. Sunday night he came through again, lacing a game-winning single to left that easily scored Papi.

“Everybody on the team has been huge,” Haase said. “Different guys have been stepping up on base for me to put me in those situations, so it takes a lot of pressure off me.”

Louis Head picked up the win in relief for Akron with two scoreless innings. Starter Nick Pasquale matched Waddell all night and tossed eight shutout innings with seven strikeouts and three walks.

The Curve’s lone hit was a leadoff single by Jin-De Jhang in the fifth.

Altoona’s best scoring chance came in the sixth when Chris Diaz walked and took second on a wild pitch by Pasquale, who then walked Anderson Feliz. That brought up Erich Weiss, who finished second on the team in RBIs this season with 63, but he bounced into an inning-ending double play.

“That was huge because Weiss usually is very good at RBIs,” Cora said, “and that situation he got a couple pitches to hit and didn’t swing at, and then he tried to swing at a breaking ball.”

The Curve finished second in the Eastern League in team batting average (.265) and have had a solid offense all season. But they struggled scoring runs down the stretch, and Sunday night they didn’t get anything going.

Cora and the players agreed losing a season-ending game the way they did was more difficult than getting blown out.

“I think a game like this,” Cora said, “because we had chances to score and we had chances to win the game, and we just couldn’t come through.”

“This way definitely,” Barnes said. “We don’t show up at the ballpark thinking we’re going to get one hit in 10 innings of baseball with this lineup and the thump we have and how we have been swinging it. But it happens. The guy came out today and had A stuff, and so did Waddell, and it was just one of those pitchers’ duals.”

Since teams almost never lose after throwing a no-hitter for nine innings, the controversial call on the ball to Wood will always stand out from this memorable playoff game.

Cora has to fill out postgame reports that go to the Pirates, and he said he would be listing the play as one that should have been an error.

Coaches have the opportunity to dispute a call with an official scorer, which happens frequently in the minor leagues. But since the play didn’t impact whether a run scored, Cora said he wouldn’t be challenging the ruling.

“We tried that before here (in Akron) a few times, and it hasn’t worked out,” he said. “At the end of the day, I know it might be historic, but what sucks is that we lost, 1-0.”

Akron manager David Wallace, who was coaching third base and was just a few feet away from the play, said, “I thought it was a hit.” He added that Wood, who was named the Eastern League’s best defensive third baseman by Baseball America, might have been able to make the play but noted it was a tough chance.

Cora said he had a lot of fun this season managing the team, but also lamented that a big opportunity slipped away in this series when the Curve couldn’t hold a 7-3 lead in Game 1.

“We had our chances,” Cora said. “At home we should have won two games. We didn’t win that first one and we had the lead in the seventh inning. In the end, it cost us.”

Game recap

Key player: Curve LHP Brandon Waddell (seven shutout innings) and Akron Nick Pasquale (eight shutout innings) turned in fantastic outings to keep their struggling offenses in the game.

Key play: DH Eric Haase singled home the winning run in the 10th inning for the RubberDucks.

Key stat: The teams had just one hit apiece through nine scoreless innings, and the Curve probably should have had a no-hitter intact entering the 10th.

How they scored

Bottom 10th: Papi doubled, scored on Haase single (0-1).