Top hitters spark Curve

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Curve starter Austin Coley delivers a pitch against New Hampshire.

The Curve have the best home record in all of professional baseball at 10-2, and a big reason for it is because they have the Eastern League’s top 1-2 punch offensively.

Kevin Kramer leads the EL in hitting at .371, while Edwin Espinal is second at .361. This is believed to be the first time ever that Curve players occupy the top two spots in EL batting average at least more than a month into the season.

Sure enough, both of those guys delivered big time Thursday night to lead the Curve a 4-3 walk-off win over New Hampshire before 2,452 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

Kramer tied it with an RBI single in the ninth, and Espinal, who homered in the eighth, was later hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to bring in the winning run.

“That’s my first time to see that,” Espinal, who was hit on the left foot by a pitch that bounced, said of the peculiar way to win a game.

Kramer has been batting third and Espinal fourth in the lineup most of the season, but Kramer was moved up to second Thursday. Having both of them doing so much damage in the middle is a major reason the Curve have the EL’s best record at 19-12.

“It makes us extremely tough, especially when they’re coming up in big, key moments of the game,” manager Michael Ryan said.

Kramer’s sacrifice fly gave Altoona a 1-0 lead in the third, but New Hampshire appeared to be on its way to victory after scoring three times in the eighth for a 3-1 lead. Espinal homered in the Curve half of the eighth to make it a one-run game.

Altoona started its rally with one out in the ninth as Elvis Escobar singled and Pablo Reyes walked. That brought up Kramer, who had reached base in all 27 games he’s played but was in danger of seeing that streak come to an end as he was 0-for-3.

Facing lefty Tim Mayza (1-1), the left-handed hitting Kramer smacked a bouncing single into right field to bring in Escobar from second to tie the game.

Connor Joe, who has been red hot of late, was intentionally walked, bringing up Espinal with the bases loaded and one out.

“With the game on the line, it worked out well for us for those two guys to get to the plate in those situations,” Ryan said of his top two hitters.

New Hampshire brought its infield in and played its outfielders about as shallow as you will ever see in any situation. Espinal admitted he was a little jumpy seeing the outfielders so shallow and “swung at a pitch a little too hard” that he fouled off.

Mayza then threw one in the dirt, and it bounced up and hit Espinal in the foot to bring in Reyes with the winning run. The Fisher Cats argued, unsuccessfully, that the ball hit Espinal.

For as well as Kramer and Espinal have hit, the Curve usually get production from a lot of guys in the order on any given night.

“It’s not just us two,” Kramer said. “There’s a lot of really good players. Connor Joe is heating up. It’s only a matter of time for everyone else. (Jordan) Luplow has obviously been awesome (with team-high six homers).”

Miguel Rosario (1-1) won in relief for Altoona. Starter Austin Coley was sharp for six innings in a no-decision, blanking the Fisher Cats on six hits and two walks.

Game recap

Key player: DH Edwin Espinal went 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs.

Key play: 2B Kevin Kramer tied it in the ninth with an RBI single, then Espinal was hit with the bases loaded to bring in the winning run.

Key stat: The Curve have the top two hitters in the EL in Kramer (.371) and Espinal (.361).

How they scored

Bottom third: Williams walked, scored on Kramer sacrifice fly (1-0).

Top eighth: Davis singled, Alford singled, both scored on Urena fielder’s choice and Kramer error (1-2); McBroom walked, scored on Heidt sacrifice fly (1-3).

Bottom eighth: Espinal solo homer (2-3).

Bottom ninth: Escobar singled, scored on Kramer single (3-3); Reyes walked, scored on Espinal hit by pitch with bases loaded (4-3).

Next stop

Tonight: New Hampshire at Altoona, 6 p.m.

Pitchers: Curve RHP Yeudy Garcia (1-2, 4.74) vs. Fisher Cats RHP Francisco Rios (3-3, 3.86)

Record: 19-12

Covering the bases

LEADING OFF: SS Kevin Newman is set to return to the lineup tonight after taking a pitch off the head Wednesday at Richmond. “Extremely fortunate,” Newman said. “That’s all you can ask in a situation like that. So thankfully we’re good to go.” Newman got hit in the face last season with high-A Bradenton. “I knew it wasn’t as bad as the first time,” he said of Wednesday’s beaning. “I was just frustrated — dang, why again. But it’s a lot better this time.”

SAFE AT FIRST: CF Elvis Escobar had a big game in the field, chasing down several tough catches. “Unbelievable game for him in center field,” manager Michael Ryan said.

STEALING SECOND: RHP Austin Coley (six shutout innings) has been a big part of the Curve’s success with his versatility, pitching out of the rotation and bullpen and posting a 2.76 ERA. “It’s a great guy to have on your club,” Ryan said. Coley was in line for the win, but a costly error on 2B Kevin Kramer helped New Hampshire score three runs in the eighth.

ROUNDING THIRD: Former Curve OF Harold Ramirez is back in town with the Fisher Cats. He was part of last year’s trade that sent Francisco Liriano to the Blue Jays. Ramirez is hitting .209 with two homers and seven RBIs.

HEADING HOME: C Reese McGuire also was part of that Liriano trade and has been with New Hampshire. He’s not currently with the club, though, and instead is in Florida on the disabled list. There’s been no reason given for his DL stint. McGuire is hitting .216 with two homers and eight RBIs in 16 games.

— Cory Giger