Pitching department gets Curve series lead
Tonight: Altoona at Trenton, 7 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve RHP J.T. Brubaker (7-6, 4.44) vs. Thunder LHP Justus Sheffield (7-6, 3.18)
Best-of-5-series: Curve lead, 1-0
By Cory Giger
TRENTON, N.J. — Pitching has carried the Curve this far, and it carried them to a huge road win Tuesday night as they escaped with a thrilling victory in Game 1 of the Eastern League Championship Series.
Big-game Brandon Waddell performed as expected with six shutout innings, and Tanner Anderson worked out of tight jams in the eighth and ninth innings as Altoona held on for a 2-1 win over Trenton at Arm & Hammer Park.
“It’s huge,” Curve third baseman Wyatt Mathisen said of getting Game 1. “We wanted to at least split on the road, but now that we’ve won the first one, we’re not going to like relax and just play to get back home. We want to win (today) so we can get up two going back home.”
Trenton won more games (92) during the regular season than any minor league team, primarily because of its fantastic pitching. But the Curve have a good chance to win their second EL title because of their pitching, and it showed in Game 1.
Waddell pitched the clinching game of the College World Series for Virginia in 2015 in front of 40,000 fans in Omaha. Last year against Akron in the playoffs, he threw a one-hitter (and that should have been ruled an error) over eight innings.
In 19 innings over three career playoff starts, the lefty has yet to allow a run while giving up just nine hits.
“You look at his career, what he’s done in the postseason, the big games that he’s pitched in going back to college, he’s been the guy that you want out there in Game 1s or in closeout games,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “It’s exactly what we thought we were going to get from him, and he lived up to the expectations.”
Nothing fazes Waddell in these types of games. And he can’t explain why.
“I don’t think I can put one thing and pick it out,” he said. “When you’re a little kid and you’re playing in the backyard, you put yourself in a big game. You imagine yourself in the World Series or whatever it may be in a big game. If I had to pick one thing, I’d say maybe it stems from that.”
Waddell allowed five hits, struck out six and didn’t walk a batter while throwing 102 pitches over six innings. He outdueled Trenton starter Dillon Tate, who gave up one run on four hits in six innings for the loss.
The Curve took a 1-0 lead in the fifth when Mitchell Tolman roped a hard line drive that kicked past second baseman Abiatal Avelino, scoring Michael Suchy.
Altoona made it 2-0 in the seventh when Elvis Escobar singled home pinch-runner Casey Hughston.
Trenton got a run back in the eighth off reliever Luis Heredia, and the Thunder had runners at second and third with one out when Ryan called upon Tanner Anderson.
It might not be a totally fair comparison, but Anderson is sort of like the Curve’s version of Indians ace reliever Andrew Miller — capable of coming on in any situation and usually being able to get out of it.
“We’re comfortable putting him out there in different situations, especially those situations you need a groundball,” Ryan said.
Anderson got a groundball that third baseman Wyatt Mathisen had to go to his right and drop to his knees to snare. Mathisen may or may not have been able to turn a double play, but instead he made the smart move by throwing home to get Jeff Hendrix out easily at the plate.
“Really, anything not directly at me I’m probably going to go to the plate just to be safe,” Mathisen said of his pre-pitch plan. “I don’t want to try to turn a double play and I misthrow it or we don’t get him at first, when I could easily get the guy out at the plate.”
Anderson got out of the eighth-inning jam on a groundout, but he found himself in another one in the ninth after a one-out double by Avelino. First baseman Jerrick Suiter made a nice play staying down on a hard grounder for the second out, putting Avelino at third with the tying run.
Anderson came up clutch, though, striking out Shariff Othman for the game-ending save.
“I love it,” Anderson said of being called upon in crucial spots. “That’s what you dream about playing baseball, big situations, you want to be the guy to go in and succeed.”
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: LHP Brandon Waddell pitched six scoreless innings and earned the win for the Curve.
Key play: 2B Mitchell Tolman gave Altoona a lead with an RBI single in the fifth, and RHP Tanner Anderson worked out of jams in the eighth and ninth innings to hold off Trenton.?Key stat: Waddell has pitched 19 innings in three playoff starts during his career and has yet to allow a run.
SUBHD: How they scored
Top 5th: Suchy singled, scored on Tolman single (1-0).
Top 7th: George bunt single, pinch-runner Hughston scored on Escobar single (2-0).
Bottom 8th: Fleming singled, scored on Estrada single (2-1).