Hayes comes through
A single at-bat can go a long way in changing a season and series narrative and is made even more dramatic when it features two of Major League Baseball’s top prospects.
A two-run home run from the Pirates’ No. 2 prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes off of the Indians’ No. 1 prospect, Tristan McKenzie (6-3), proved all the Curve would need in Sunday’s 4-1 victory that clinched the season series versus Akron before 5,092 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
“Us and (Akron), we are definitely going to be playing them come September,” Hayes said. “It’s always great to be able to play against them because they’re a really good team, and we match up really well against them. I can’t wait (for a potential playoff matchup).”
Hayes’ seventh homer of the season and second in the last five games came after a Saturday that the Altoona third baseman would like to forget in which he stranded eight runners and left the bases loaded without recording an RBI twice.
“I’m never going to tell a player, ‘shame on you for not coming up in big situations,’ or anything like that,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “I know a player is going to have nights like that. The impressive thing is the way that he responded. To be able to respond the next day and be able to contribute like he did shows you what type of player he is and how he can put those things behind him.”
Hayes reached base twice on Sunday in four plate appearances and didn’t leave a single Curve player on base.
With the single at-bat from Hayes, McKenzie saw his career earned runs allowed versus the Curve double, after dominating Altoona in two previous starts when the lanky right-hander allowed just one run in 11 1/3 combined innings.
Altoona’s win moved the Curve to five back of Akron for first in the Western Division, but more importantly increased its lead to three games over Harrisburg with the Senators falling 7-2 to Binghamton earlier Sunday afternoon.
Sunday’s game was the final time the Curve play Akron this season before a likely playoff showdown, and things could not be much closer between the two sides with Altoona winning the season series, 12-10.
“It gives us something to shoot for,” Ryan said. “If we end up being tied (with Akron), since we won the season series and won it against the best team record-wise in the league, that’s a great confidence builder for the guys in (the clubhouse).”
Cam Vieaux (7-3) bounced back to his midseason form following the two worst starts of his Curve career. Vieaux matched a career-high with seven innings pitched, allowing just a lone run and five hits. His six strikeouts were the second most he has thrown this season.
“(Cam’s) a bulldog out there,” Ryan said. “He competes and knows that he has good stuff. Tonight was the best that he’s had (all three pitches) going for him since he’s been here. He wanted the ball in this situation. … He was honored and excited to have the ball.”
Sean Keselica and Matt Eckelman each worked an inning out of relief to preserve the game. Eckelman’s fifth save of the season for Altoona and 10th overall in the minors is tied for the most in the Pirates’ organization.
The Indians’ prized prospect McKenzie went just 5 1/3 innings and allowed three earned runs, the second-most he has all season.
McKenzie’s final earned run came from Curve first baseman Will Craig, who now has 89 on the season and is just one behind Jose Bautista’s 90 for second-most in Curve history.
Should the Curve manage to close the gap on Akron by the season’s end, Sunday’s win could pay huge dividends as it would provide Altoona with the tie-breaker for home field advantage.
“It gives us an opportunity to try and still win the division,” Ryan said. “We needed to get the series not only today, but to clinch the season series against Akron. It’s absolutely huge.”
Key player: RHP Cam Vieaux tossed seven innings of one-run baseball, allowing just a single home run and five hits.
Key play: 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes two-run homer to give the Curve the lead.
Key stat: The Curve won the season series versus Akron 12-10.
How they scored
Bottom 3rd: Alemais walked, scored on Hayes two-run homer (2-0).
Bottom 6th: Reynolds tripled, scored on fielding error (3-0).
Top 7th: Mathias solo homer (3-1).
Bottom 8th: Craig singled, scored on Kelley single (4-1).
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: CF Bryan Reynolds finally returned to the hit column Sunday night with a single and triple. Following a nine game stretch in which the outfielder recorded multiple hits on six occasions, Reynolds was held to 0-of-8 at the plate in the first two games of the series.
SAFE AT FIRST: Despite having scored the second-most runs in the Eastern League, Sunday’s one-run performance was the second-straight series in which the Curve held Akron to a single run in a game. Akron had scored multiple runs in 19 of 20 games entering play Sunday.
STEALING SECOND: 1B Will Craig attempted stealing second base for the third-straight night, only this time it was a success. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound Craig reached third on an error trying to catch him at second. The swipe was just Craig’s fifth of the season.
ROUNDING THIRD: With his second inning double, LF Logan Hill reached base for his 12th consecutive game. Hill had five hits against the RubberDucks this series.
HEADING HOME: RHP Dario Agrazal (3-2) is schedule to pitch Wednesday at Trenton after being promoted from high-A Bradenton Sunday. Agrazal last pitched for the Curve on May 24 at Bowie before being moved to the disabled list with a shoulder strain and has made two starts since the end of July for Bradenton.
Tuesday: Altoona at Trenton, 7 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve RHP Scooter Hightower (0-1, 5.09) vs RHP Adonis Rosa (AA Debut)