Curve capture series with SeaWolves

By Cory Giger

The Curve had a stinker of a game in their series-opening loss to Erie on Monday, and afterward, manager Michael Ryan told his club that the SeaWolves are the “better team right now” and challenged the players “to get to that level and get past that level.”

Over the past two days, the Curve did just that, beating Erie twice and continuing to prove they can win games in a lot of different ways.

“Just wanted to clean some things up,” Ryan said. “I think effort, obviously, and belief in what they can do. They accepted a challenge to play a good team and believe that they can be just as good. That’s what I saw.”

The crowd of 2,144 at Peoples Natural Gas Field saw it, too, Wednesday night as the Curve downed the SeaWolves, 8-3, to win the series, two games to one.

All nine starters had at least one hit for Altoona, Tomas Morales tied a career high with three RBIs and Edwin Espinal came through with more clutch hits to lead a balanced attack.

“You talk about a total team effort, tonight’s a perfect example,” Ryan said. “You’ve got each guy contributing throughout the box score, and once again we played very good defense.”

Tied 3-3 in the sixth, the Curve took control with three runs, ignited by a go-ahead RBI single from Espinal. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI and three runs, and he’s now batting .415 with a 1.042 OPS.

Jordan Luplow doubled to start the sixth, and Espinal smacked a 3-2 pitch the other way into right-center to bring in the go-ahead run.

Ryan has praised Espinal’s ability to hit with two strikes, and in that situation, the hitter just went with the pitch and laced it into the gap.

“When I get two strikes, I think they don’t have a chance with me,” Espinal said. “That’s my mentality. I trust myself, I am confident in what I do.”

Espinal takes his two-strike hitting approach even further, Ryan said, since he will step into the box with that mindset even if he doesn’t have two strikes.

Why would a hitter do that? As Espinal said, it allows him to lock in mentally thinking there are two strikes, and to see the ball longer while using his hands more.

“The Cardinals do that,” Ryan said of hitting with a two-strike approach even when there’s not two strikes, “especially with runners in scoring position.”

Wyatt Mathisen brought Espinal in with a single for a 5-3 lead, and Michael Suchy later scored on a groundout by Morales for a three-run cushion.

Morales singled home a pair of runs in the eighth to tie his career high in RBIs.

“I think some guys stepped up,” Ryan said. “(Second baseman Kevin) Kramer had the day off today, so in the back of your mind you’re wondering who’s going to want to step up, who’s going to step up. (Morales) did a great job, especially behind the plate.”

Starter J.T. Brubaker allowed three runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings but got a no-decision. The Curve’s bullpen turned in another terrific outing, holding Erie scoreless the final 3 1/3 innings.

The game was tied at 3-3 when Sean Keselica (2-0) got out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth. He wound up getting the win, and Buddy Borden pitched the final two innings for his first save.

Erie starter Tyler Alexander (0-2) gave up five runs — three earned — in five innings for the loss. The Curve also scored three runs off the SeaWolves’ bullpen and finished with 12 hits.

“I saw the attacking nature today,” Ryan said of his hitters. “We talked about it early today in a couple meetings. When you get passive in this game is when you start getting in trouble. So the key word was attack, and that’s what we did.”

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: 1B Edwin Espinal was 2-for-4 with three runs and an RBI.

Key play: The Curve got out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth, then scored three runs in their half of the inning to take the lead.

Key stat: All nine starters had a hit for Altoona, and C Tomas Morales tied his career high with three RBIs.

SUBHD: How they scored

Top 1st: Krizan singled, scored on Stewart single (0-1); Gerber doubled, scored on Ficociello sacrifice fly (0-2).

Bottom 1st: Newman singled, scored on Luplow single (1-2); Reyes singled, scored on Suchy groundout (2-2).

Bottom 4th: Espinal reached on Nunez error, scored on Mathisen double play groundout (3-2).

Top 5th: Eaves singled, scored on Gerber groundout (3-3).

Bottom 6th: Luplow doubled, scored on Espinal double (4-3); Espinal scored on Simcox error (5-3); Suchy singled, scored on Morales groundout (6-3).

Bottom 8th: Espinal singled, Simpson singled, both scored on Morales single (8-3).

Next stop

Tonight: Idle

Next game: Altoona at Akron, Friday, 6:35 p.m.

Record: 9-4