Curve adapting well to PNG Field
There are a lot of things to like about this year’s Curve team, which has the Eastern League’s second-best record, and one of the most important is that the club seems to be made perfectly for its home ballpark.
Altoona improved to 9-2 at Peoples Natural Gas Field this season on Wednesday afternoon with, ironically, a 9-2 victory over Richmond before 4,598 fans on a school kids day.
“It’s a big field, we’re a gap-to-gap hitting club, I think offensively we line up pretty well here,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “Same thing with us on the mound — you’ve got to strike some balls to get them out of here, and we like to pitch down in the zone, we like to get ahead.”
The Curve jumped ahead early against Richmond, getting a two-run double from Chase Simpson in the first inning. They added another run on a homer by Jordan Luplow in the second and rode their usual strong pitching to victory, later blowing things open with four runs in the eighth.
Altoona has gone just 6-7 away from home, but the 9-2 mark at PNG Field has put the team at 15-9 overall and in first place by 2¢ games in the Western Division.
“It’s too early to say that there’s a reason,” second baseman Kevin Kramer said of the great play at home so far. “We strive to be a good team no matter where we play.”
Still, it’s easy to see that the makeup of the offense — good contact hitters who use the whole field and are trying to just slug the ball — fit well with the big dimensions at PNG Field.
“There’s not anyone that’s just a straight power guy,” Kramer said. “There are a lot of solid hitters that have power, but also have the ability to hit line drives in the gaps.
“Obviously, playing in a big field like this, we take advantage of the other team, and if they make mistakes, we take advantage of that, also. Overall, solid lineup, we know what we can do staying within ourselves, and we’re not out there searching for home runs.”
The Curve did get two homers Wednesday, though, with Connor Joe hitting the second in the sixth inning for a 4-2 lead. Joe ran his hitting streak to 10 games.
Pablo Reyes made it 5-2 with an RBI single in the seventh inning, and with the help of four consecutive extra-base hits, the Curve poured it on with the four-run eighth. Jordan Luplow doubled, Zane Chavez doubled, Chris Diaz doubled, then Elvis Escobar finished off the impressive feat with a triple.
Tanner Anderson (2-1) turned in five solid innings on the mound, giving up two runs — one earned — on five hits with three strikeouts and a walk. Relievers Luis Heredia, Buddy Borden and Tate Scioneaux blanked the Flying Squirrels the rest of the way.
Jordan Johnson (1-2) took the loss for Richmond, which has been abysmal playing in Altoona going back to last year. The Curve have won 12 of the last 13 games against the Flying Squirrels at PNG Field.
“Pitching and defense are what carry us, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence we’ve been playing well at home because we can pitch it and we play pretty good defense,” Ryan said.
Just about every team in baseball plays better at home than on the road, but how much better is often the difference in playoff contenders. Last season, for instance, the Curve were 43-25 at home, a huge differential that got them into the playoffs despite going just 33-39 away from home.
The Curve now hit the road to play four games at Akron, where they came up empty in three games last week.
“We got swept there last time, so it’s something we haven’t forgotten,” Ryan said. “We knew we were going back soon, so that’s motivation enough. We’ll play all nine (innings) all four games, and we’ll be in each one.
“We didn’t do a good job situational hitting there, and I think that was the difference. We struggled getting some bunts down, we didn’t get guys in from third with less than two outs, something we can improve on there and change our approach.”
Key player: 3B Chase Simpson went 2-for-4 with a big two-run double in the first inning for the Curve.
Key play: Simpson’s double and a homer by LF Jordan Luplow in the second gave Altoona an early 3-0 lead.
Key stat: The Curve are 9-2 at home.
How they scored
Bottom 1st: Escobar singled, Kramer hit by pitch, both scored on Simpson double (2-0).
Bottom 2nd: Luplow solo homer (3-0).
Top 4th: Gomez singled, scored on Davis single (3-1); Cole double scored Davis (3-2).
Bottom 6th: Joe solo homer (4-2).
Bottom 7th: Diaz singled, scored on Reyes single (5-2).
Bottom 8th: Simpson singled, scored on Mathisen sacrifice fly (6-2); Luplow doubled, scored on Chavez double (7-2); Diaz double scored Chavez (8-2); Escobar triple scored Diaz (9-2).