Curve eyeing sweep

The Altoona Curve leave the field in Trenton after taking a 2-0 lead against the Thunder in the Eastern League Championship Series on September 13, 2017. Photo by Martin Griff

TRENTON, N.J. — Everybody knows hitting is contagious, but that also applies to pitching, and it’s the biggest reason why the Curve are one game away from an Eastern League title.

J.T Brubaker picked the perfect time for the longest outing of his career, going eight strong innings, and Altoona came up with enough clutch hits to take down Trenton once again Wednesday night.

The 4-2 win at Arm & Hammer Park gave the Curve a 2-0 lead in the Eastern League Championship Series, and they can wrap it up with a win at home tonight.

“Definitely, pitching is very contagious,” Brubaker said, “as you can see from the playoffs.”

Altoona is 5-0 in the postseason, and the pitchers have combined for an incredible 1.20 ERA. Night after night, one guy after another has delivered a quality start, and the relievers have followed suit.

“It makes it easy for me just to sit back and watch these guys compete, watch them execute,” manager Michael Ryan said. “It’s fun to watch.”

While no one can expect a 1.20 team ERA in the playoffs, seeing the Curve pitchers excel is not a surprise. In their last 20 games, going back to the regular season, the pitchers have combined for a 2.10 ERA.

“The pitching’s been outstanding,” outfielder Elvis Escobar said. “We just try to score more than two or three runs, because they won’t give up more than two or three.”

Escobar smacked a pair of RBI singles to lead the Curve offense, which has come up with enough clutch hits against a Trenton pitching staff that had a 2.83 ERA during the regular season. That’s the lowest figure in the Eastern League since 1976.

Altoona also won both games on the road against a team that went 92-48 overall and 52-20 at home this season.

The Thunder had few answers for Brubaker, who gave up two runs — one earned — on seven hits over eight innings, striking out six with one walk. His previous career best was seven innings.

Postseason success is nothing new to Brubaker. In four career playoff starts, he’s 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA, and he also started last year’s clinching game for Bradenton in the Florida State League Championship Series.

“Nothing really changes throughout the season,” Brubaker said of his mindset. “I still have the same mentality going out there, throwing my best stuff and seeing what they can do with it.”

His philosophy Wednesday was to get groundballs, quick outs and attack hitters, and he did that efficiently, throwing only 94 pitches over eight innings.

Brubaker said seeing the other starters succeed in the playoffs serves as motivation for all the pitchers.

“(Mitch) Keller started off amazing with the complete game, and then (Alex McRae) went out and threw a great game and then (Austin) Coley the same thing and (Brandon Waddell),” Brubaker said. “Each time a starter goes out there, they try to do one better than the starter before them. And if you have that mentality, pitching staff is going to be on point the entire year or playoffs.”

The Curve got to Trenton lefty Justus Sheffield in the fifth inning and scored three times to take control.

Jin-De Jhang walked and came home on a single by Jordan George, who later scored on a single by Escobar. Kevin Kramer drew a bases-loaded walk to cap the game-changing inning.

Trenton got a run back in its half of the fifth when the Curve failed to turn a double play that would have ended the inning.

Escobar had another RBI single in the sixth, bringing in Jhang, who had walked.

The Thunder put up a threat in the eighth, scoring a run off Brubaker and having runners at first and second with one out. The pitcher managed to escape the jam with a double play.

Yeudy Garcia came on for the save in the ninth, worked around a two-out walk and struck out Estevan Florial to end the game.

The Curve now turn to Keller to try and win the series tonight at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Keller, the Pirates’ top pitching prospect, is coming off the best pitching performance in Curve history, a one-hit shutout at Bowie last week in which he faced the minimum.

“We’ve just got to come ready to play and know (Trenton is) not going to fold,” Ryan said. “They’re going to show up ready to play, and we’ve got to answer.”

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: RHP J.T. Brubaker went a career-best eight innings, allowing two runs — one earned — and OF Elvis Escobar was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles.

Key play: The Curve scored three runs in the fifth, getting RBI singles from LF George, Escobar and a bases-loaded walk by DH Kevin Kramer.

Key stat: The Curve are 5-0 in the playoffs thanks to a 1.20 team ERA.

SUBHD: How they scored

Top 5th: Jhang singled, scored on George single (1-0); Escobar single scored George (2-0); Suchy singled, scored on Kramer bases-loaded walk (3-0).

Bottom 5th: Florial singled, scored on Hendrix groundout (3-1).

Top 6th: Jhang walked, scored on Escobar single (4-1).

Bottom 8th: Hendrix singled, scored on Estrada single (4-2).

Next stop

Tonight: Trenton at Altoona, 6 p.m.

Pitchers: Curve RHP Mitch Keller (2-2, 3.12) vs. Thunder RHP Will Carter (3-1, 3.26)

Series: Curve lead, 2-0 and can clinch title with win tonight