Rumble Ponies hold Curve to just two hits

A night removed from a high-scoring, hit-fest of a game, a pitching duel emerged between two polar opposite styles of starting pitchers.

Curve bats were held quiet all night in a 5-0 Binghamton victory in which the Rumble Ponies’ starter Mickey Jannis (7-5) held Altoona to just a pair of hits in front of a crowd of 6,577 at Peoples Natural Gas Field on Friday night. The win was the first for Binghamton in five tries against the Curve

“We had the advantage of facing (Jannis) earlier in the season,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said, “but it’s hard to prepare for because each time you face a knuckleball guy, even if you face him multiple times, that knuckleball is going to be different each time. Tonight, tip your cap. He had a good one.”

Using a knuckleball that topped out in the low 70s as his primary weapon, Curve batters struggled all night to make contact against Jannis and his unique pitching style. Following a Bryan Reynolds single in the first inning, Altoona failed to record a hit off Jannis until a Logan Hill check-swing single in the seventh that left the left fielder grinning at his fortune as he touched first base.

“You don’t see a knuckleball, at all, ever,” Curve first baseman Will Craig said. “He threw the ball really well. His knuckleball went from 68 to 78 (mph). It went two different ways…Then he would throw an 89 mile an hour fastball right after a knuckle, and (the fastball) would look like 100.”

Taylor Hearn (3-6) was equally effective on the hill to start the game, not allowing a single hit until Binghamton’s Will Toffey broke up the lefty’s no-hit bid in the fifth with a bunt-single.

In a complete contrast to the 5-foot-9 Jannis, the 6-foot-5 Hearn relied heavily on a fastball that consistently reaches mid-90s to retire Rumble Pony batters.

Jannis continued his dominance of the night as he recorded just his second hit of the season to break the scoreless tie in the fifth and pick up his season’s first RBI.

Hearn’s night came to a close after six innings of six-hit baseball in which he allowed three earned runs and only struck out two batters. The two strikeouts were tied for the fewest he has thrown all season in his 19 starts. Hearn entered the night leading the Eastern League with 105 strikeouts and the highest strikeout per nine inning rate of 9.64.

“I thought (Hearn) was very effective,” Ryan said. “(Binghamton) just did a good job of spoiling pitches. Later in the game they eliminated his slider and put them in some counts in which they knew the fastball was coming… It was just one of those days. It’s a full moon.”

Scooter Hightower relieved the Curve starter to make his fourth appearance of the season for Altoona. Hightower worked three innings out of the pen to finish the game and allowed two runs on five hits.

Jannis’ night ended after one batter in the seventh as he was replaced by David Roseboom. The two hits Jannis allowed was just the second time in his 18 appearances this season that he allowed fewer than six hits.

Roseboom struck out three consecutive batters before Will Craig reached on error and did not allow another Curve baserunner the rest of the night.

“You can’t really prepare against knuckleballers,” Craig said. “You just have to go out there and try to see as much as you can. Today our goal was to try and eliminate swinging at good knuckleballs. I felt like we didn’t chase that much, but it was just dancing, and he was missing barrels.”

Game recap

Key player: Binghamton RHP Mickey Jannis struck out six and allowed two hits in 7+ innings of scoreless baseball.

Key play: Binghamton 3B Will Toffey’s fifth inning bunt to end Hearn’s no-hitter.

Key stat: 2B Stephen Alemais lengthened his on-base streak to 13 games.

How they scored

Top 5th: Toffey singled, scored on Jannis single (0-1); Biondi walked, scored on Michael single (0-2).

Top 6th: Terdoslavich singled, scored on Allen single (0-3).

Top 8th: Terdoslavich doubled, scored on Toffey single (0-4).

Top 9th: Michael reached on fielder’s choice, scored on Terdoslavich single (0-5).

Covering the bases

LEADING OFF: The Curve are in a better position at this point in the season than they were in last year’s championship-winning season. Through 100 games this year, Altoona was 54-46, compared to 52-48 the year prior.

SAFE AT FIRST: Binghamton 3B Will Toffey, who was recently acquired from the Athletics’ organization in the trade that sent Mets reliever Jeurys Familia to Oakland, helped pace the Rumble Ponies’ offense, going 2-for-3 with an RBI.

STEALING SECOND: The Curve were shut out for just the sixth time all season and first since July 1. Altoona had scored at least four runs in nine of its last 10 games entering Friday.

ROUNDING THIRD: RF Tyler Gaffney remained perfect on the season in stolen base attempts as he swiped his third bag in as many tries in the second inning.

HEADING HOME: Akron defeated Erie 3-2 on Friday to increase its first place lead of the Curve in the Western Division standings to 7.5 games.

–Thomas Schlarp