King of the Hill
Defending champion Curve get winning HR from designated hitter
The Curve put together a comeback in the eighth inning of their season opener Thursday night, and for a few minutes, it appeared they would have a chance to make baseball history.
Altoona scored three runs to pull even with Akron, and at that point, extra innings were a good possibility. Had that happened, the contest would have made history as the first minor league game ever to start extra innings with a runner already on second base, as per the new rule this year.
Then Logan Hill stepped to the plate for the Curve and spoiled the historical drama but thrilled the crowd by belting a three-run homer over the wall in left. Akron threatened in the ninth with a couple of runs, but Altoona held on for a 6-5 victory before 5,024 fans on a frigid night at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
“It was awesome,” Hill said of his game-winning homer. “Up there in the moment just trying to help the team win, and I was fortunate enough to get the barrel on that one.”
The Curve trailed 3-0 entering the eight before battling back. It was the same sort of resiliency last year’s club frequently showed on its way to winning the Eastern League championship, so Thursday’s opener set the tone that this team also will never be out of a game.
“There’s not going to be any quit in these guys,” manager Michael Ryan said.
Elvis Escobar started the eighth-inning rally with a one-out single, and the Curve got a huge break when Akron left fielder Tyler Krieger dropped a routine fly ball as he coasted back and to his right. Cole Tucker followed with a two-run double, and all of a sudden a Curve offense that had only two hits through seven innings was in business.
Stephen Alemais followed with a single to left to bring in Tucker. Will Craig then walked to bring up Hill with runners on the corners and one out, and Hill drilled a 1-1 slider over the fence.
“He’s a middle-of-the-order guy,” Ryan said. “I’ve seen him hit some balls almost as hard as you will see anyone hit them. You know the bat speed’s there, barrel control is there. He’s just a strong dude.”
Hill hit 16 homers in 71 games at high-A Bradenton last year to earn a promotion to the Curve. But after only 22 games, he was hit by a pitch on his left hand and suffered a fracture that ended his season in late July.
“I was pretty disappointed with that happening with the year I was having,” Hill said. “But it all happens for a reason. I got to go to the (Arizona) Fall League and bounced back there. I went into the offseason really happy with where I was and carried that over to spring training and on to the season.”
The experimental extra-inning rule of starting with a runner on second base was used in the Arizona Fall League, so Hill already was familiar with it. He just laughed when told he spoiled the chances of making history if Thursday’s game would have been the first ever in the minors to use the rule in extras.
“I’m definitely glad we didn’t have to go into extras on this cold night,” Hill said.
Akron came back with a couple of runs in the ninth off reliever Geoff Hartlieb to bring the extra-innings possibility back into play. Sam Haggerty hit a two-run double, and he was on second as the tying run when Hartlieb retired Krieger on a fly ball to end the game and earn the save.
Sean Keselica (1-0) won in relief for the Curve, while Argenis Angula (0-1) took the loss for Akron.
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: DH Logan Hill hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the eighth for the Curve.
Key play: Hill’s homer capped a six-run inning that erased a 3-0 deficit.
Key stat: The Curve have opened a season at home 10 times and have gone 7-3 in those games. They have won two consecutive season openers for the first time ever.
SUBHD: How they scored
Top 5th: Loopstok hit by pitch, scored on Haggerty single (0-1); Krieger walked, scored along with Haggerty on Craig error (0-3).
Bottom 8th: Escobar singled, Kelley reached on Krieger error, both scored on Tucker double (2-3); Alemais single scored Tucker (3-3); Craig walked, scored along with Alemais on Hill three-run homer (6-3).
Top 9th: Mathias walked, Loopstok singled, both scored on Haggerty double (6-5).