Curve win fifth straight as team honors Hyzdu
By Thomas Schlarp
For the Mirror
With Adam Hydzu in the house, there was really only one appropriate way for Altoona to pay homage to a Curve legend.
The Curve matched their season-high winning streak of five games with a 9-5 win over New Hampshire Saturday night in front of 5,349 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field who were in attendance to see “Mr. Curve” throw out the ceremonial first pitch and collect the bobblehead of the lone retired number in Curve history.
While Saturday’s victory wasn’t quite the same convincing fashion of the past four days, yet another home run from Will Craig — his fourth in five games — extended the magic that was discovered earlier this week in Binghamton and has Altoona playing like the best team in the Eastern League.
“We’re coming to field every day now, much more lighthearted,” Craig said. “For a while we were just really upset with how we were playing. We wanted to play better. It was really getting frustrated for all of us. Myself included, we knew we weren’t playing as well as we should have.” These last five games, it feels like it’s finally there. It’s finally starting to click. We’ve felt like we’re now playing to how we should be playing, to our full potential.
The Fisher Cats made things close with a three-run home run of their own in the sixth inning off of Curve starter Pedro Vasquez (1-4), but as has been the case during the season-saving streak, a big hit — this time from Jin-De Jhang’s first homer of the season — padded the lead to move Altoona back in comfortable position.
In the five-game win streak propelled by phenomenal batting, Altoona has scored 47 runs, one more than they scored in the previous 14 games leading up to the current stretch.
The Curve have scored at least nine runs in four of the five games and have hit 10 home runs despite having the second fewest long balls in the Eastern League entering Monday. Saturday’s 11 hits was the sixth game in a row Altoona reached double figures in the hit column.
New Hampshire’s RHP Justin Dillon (1-2) allowed nine of the hits and six runs in four and a third innings of the Fishers Cats’ fifth game of a nine-game road trip.
“All three phases are working together right now,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “We’re getting solid starts from our rotation, the bullpen is doing their job and putting zeros up and holding leads. We’re obviously then, really clicking offensively. One through nine hitters have all been tough outs. Everything’s just working right now.”
With the win, Altoona moved to six games over .500. Last year’s championship-winning team only finished eight games above .500. Building up to the current stretch that the Curve are on hasn’t always been pretty, but a simple small winning streak can be all a team needs to lay the foundation of a successful title defense.
It may have taken over two months for the Curve to straighten out, but at their current pace, Altoona looks like it could be headed for another exciting August and September.
“I think it’s normal at this point in the season for players that are new to double-A to realize what adjustments they need to make, and they are making them,” Ryan said. “It was just a matter of time.”
One of the Curve’s top prospects — third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes — has not been involved with the much of the winning streak. Injured Tuesday in Binghamton after a pitch struck his right knee, Hayes hasn’t played since.
“We’re going to get him checked out Monday in Pittsburgh with the doctors and then go from there,” Ryan said regarding Hayes’ injury.
Hayes was a 2015 first round draft pick and is MLB.com’s fourth-rated prospect in the Pirates’ organization. He was batting .284 with 3 HRs before the injury.
Key player: Jin-De Jhang had a pair of singles and a sixth inning home run to give the catcher four RBIs on the day.
Key play: Jhang’s three-run homer moved the Curve back into a commanding lead they did not relinquish.
Key stat: The Curve have 64 hits in their last five games.
How they scored
Top 1st: Berti singled, scored on Biggio sac-fly (0-1).
Bottom 4th: Reynolds singled, scored on Alemais sac-fly (1-1). Jhang singled, scored on Ratledge double (2-1).
Bottom 5th: Jackson and Martin singled, scored on Craig three-run homer (5-1). Reynolds doubled, scored on Jhang single (6-1).
Top 6th: Berti hit by pitch, Bichette singled, both scored on Biggio three-run homer (6-4).
Bottom 6th: Craig walked, Reynolds hit by pitch. Both scored on Jhang three-run homer (9-4).
Top 8th: Bichette walked, scored on Ramirez double (9-5).
Tonight: New Hampshire at Altoona, 6 p.m.
Pitchers: Fisher Cats RHP Jon Harris (4-3, 5.43) vs. Curve RHP Eduardo Vera (1-0, 2.57)