Holmes helps Curve even series

Clay Holmes watched Akron score 12 runs on 18 hits in Wednesday’s Game 1 win over the Curve, and he remained unfazed by any of it.

“I faced them four times this year, so I know what they have and I know my stuff,” Holmes said. “End of the day, if I make pitches I know I’m better than them and we can win the game.”

Holmes was better than Akron in Game 2, and Altoona’s bullpen also bounced back with a terrific effort in a 3-1 win Thursday night before 2,568 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. The Curve scored two runs in the opening inning to jump ahead, and the series is now tied at a game apiece heading to Akron for the final three games.

“This was a fun outing,” Holmes said after allowing one run on four hits in 5 innings.

Holmes departed with a 2-1 lead, then relievers Josh Smith, Trey Haley and Jared Lakind combined to keep the potent RubberDucks lineup hitless over the final 3 innings.

“They paid attention to what happened (Wednesday) night,” Curve manager Joey Cora said, “and (they) made adjustments and pitched well and attacked them.

“Holmes made outstanding pitches all night long. He was throwing the ball very hard with a lot of movement, and he was throwing strikes. And the bullpen obviously was outstanding. What was it, 3 1/3 innings with no hits – against that team – is pretty impressive.”

The Curve gave their pitchers a quick lead as Kevin Newman led off the first inning with a single and came around to score on a double to left by Erich Weiss. Cora made an aggressive call coaching third base to send Newman, who barely beat the throw, and Weiss got to third on the play.

Barrett Barnes followed with a sacrifice fly for the 2-0 edge off Akron starter Michael Peoples.

“I know we scored a lot of runs (Wednesday) night, but that’s one out of the last five games,” Cora said. “We haven’t been scoring a lot of runs. We had a chance there to score one and get a lead right away, so I did take a chance, and it worked out.”

Cora admitted to making a mistake on a later decision to send a runner home in the fourth inning, still leading 2-0. Anderson Feliz got thrown out on the play, and the manager said, “I was sending him all the way, and the very last moment I (chickened) out. It was a mistake, and the guys picked me up.”

Akron scored its lone run in the fifth off Holmes as Eric Haase drew a one-out walk, took third on a single by Luigi Rodriguez and came home on a hit by Ivan Castillo.

Holmes was in command, though, and wound up delivering a huge performance on a night his club desperately needed it. The pitcher had struggled against Akron during the regular season, posting a 7.23 ERA in four starts, allowing 19 earned runs in 23 innings.

“I haven’t really had my best stuff at all against that team,” he said after Thursday’s win, “so personally I knew that going in they haven’t really seen my best stuff.”

Holmes had his two-seam fastball working well and felt comfortable with all of his pitches, including a slider he only recently started throwing that Akron hadn’t yet seen.

Stetson Allie hit his second homer in as many nights to stretch the Curve’s lead to 3-1 in the sixth, and the bullpen took over after that.

Smith retired one man to get out of the sixth, Haley tossed 1 innings, then Lakind was lights out with three strikeouts in the final 1 innings for the save.

The fact that Lakind even pitched is a fascinating minor league tale.

He tossed three clutch scoreless innings in Monday’s 10-inning victory at Richmond that clinched a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season. He knew he wouldn’t be able to pitch in Game 1 Wednesday but was hopeful he could go in Game 2.

After passing the required health tests the Pirates administer to make sure a player’s body is ready to go, Lakind was told he couldn’t pitch because the Bucs wanted him to have three days’ rest after throwing three innings Monday.

Lakind has been one of the club’s most valuable relievers all season, and he took it upon himself to make sure he would get a chance to pitch. He asked pitching coach Justin Meccage if he could contact Pirates minor league pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell personally to ask for the go ahead.

“I sent him a text, and I said, ‘I’m ready to throw. I’m ready to go,'” Lakind said.

That sort of thing happens in the big leagues, but it’s rare in the minor leagues for a player to take that upon himself.

“He called him personally and asked to be available, and he was huge,” Cora said of Lakind.

Game recap

Key player: RHP Clay Holmes gave up one run in 5 2/3 innings to win for the Curve.

Key play: Altoona scored twice in the first inning, with 2B Erich Weiss doubling home a run before scoring on a sacrifice fly by LF Barrett Barnes.

Key stat: Akron had 12 runs and 18 hits in Game 1, but just one run and four hits in Game 2.

How they scored

Bottom 1st: Newman singled, scored on Weiss double (1-0); Barnes sacrifice fly scored Weiss (2-0).

Top 5th: Haase walked, scored on Castillo single (2-1).

Bottom 6th: Allie solo homer (3-1).