Curve go down 2-0 to Ducks

Akron’s Rodriguez hits walk-off homer

Photo for the Mirror by Karen Schiely, Beacon Journal Altoona’s Cole Tucker slides back to first base.

AKRON, Ohio — Years go by. Players change. Situations vary. But the result is always the same at the Curve’s house of horrors.

They just cannot win a playoff game at Akron.

The postseason losing streak at Canal Park reached 10 in a row Thursday night as the RubberDucks won, 2-1, on a walk-off homer by Nellie Rodriguez in the 10th inning before 3,419 fans. Akron leads the best-of-five Western Division playoffs, 2-0, as the series moves to Altoona tonight for game 3.

“We know it’s an uphill battle,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “But until that last out’s made and (Akron has) won the third game, then I’ll believe in this club.”

Cole Tucker led off the game with a home run for Altoona.

That was it for the offense.

Eduardo Vera was pitching a gem for the Curve, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Akron broke it up with back-to-back singles to start the sixth, then pulled even on a bang-bang play at the plate.

The game stayed 1-1 into extra innings, which are different in the playoffs than the regular season. There’s no more starting an inning with a runner on second base, and instead it’s just real baseball.

The Curve went down quietly in their half of the 10th against reliever Jordan Milbrath, who got the win.

Altoona reliever Matt Eckelman had breezed through the ninth in order with two strikeouts, but he threw just one pitch in the 10th. The hanging breaking ball was a bit inside, and Rodriguez launched it 400 feet over the wall in left field for the walk off.

Rodriguez spent most of the season in Triple-A but struggled, hitting just .204 in 76 games. He was demoted to Akron in early August and hit .283 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 31 games.

“We would love anybody to hit that home run,” Akron manager Tony Mansolino said, “but just the fact it was Nellie, after what he’s been through and how he’s rejuvenated his career a little bit here over the last month … and showed everybody he is back with that home run is as big for his career as it is for the game.”

The Curve managed just five hits for the second straight game — none after the fourth inning — and have scored only three runs in the series.

“Just not very good at-bats, to be honest with you,” Ryan said.

“Take the home run from Tucker to lead off the game, what else did we do? We didn’t get a hit since the fourth on Will Craig’s single. It’s not enough.”

Akron had only three hits all night, but …

“Three hits was enough for them, apparently,” Ryan said.

The loss wasted a terrific outing by Vera, who wound up going eight innings, allowing only two hits and one run. The right-hander finished the regular season 7-0 with a 2.32 ERA over his final 10 starts and was magnificent Thursday.

“I was feeling really good, all my pitches were working really good,” Vera said. “My slider was a little off early in the game, but at the end I figured it out. I think I did a pretty good job.”

That he did. But it still wasn’t enough to get a win.

“You hate for him to get a no-decision in that type of game. He did everything exactly according to plan. It’s just a shame we couldn’t push anything across for him.”

Akron right-hander Jake Paulson, who led the Eastern League with a 3.04 ERA this season, went toe to toe with Vera, holding Altoona to one run on five hits over seven innings.

Here are two examples of how tough it’s been for Altoona to win a playoff game in Akron:

n They couldn’t get the job done with Vera throwing a two-hitter for eight innings Thursday.

n In their final postseason game in 2016, the Curve essentially threw a no-hitter for nine innings but still lost in the 10th, 1-0, to be eliminated. (The lone hit by Akron through nine was on a ball that should have been ruled an error on Altoona third baseman Eric Wood.)

So, it seems like no matter what the guys wearing a Curve uniform do, getting a postseason win at Canal Park has been a mission impossible. The only time it’s ever happened was game 2 of the 2003 playoff series, when Kevin Nicholson hit two homers, including a go-ahead shot in the ninth.

Altoona is 1-11 all-time in the playoffs at Akron. All told, regular season and postseason, the Curve are 82-133 at Canal Park.

Akron almost always has a very good team, which is important to note, but why is it so tough to win here?

“I don’t know,” Tucker said. “We come here, and there’s just something about it. I feel like they’re a better team here than they are in Altoona for whatever reason. I really can’t put my finger on it.”

No one with the Curve has been able to for 15 years now in the postseason.

Altoona went 40-29 at home this season, the second-best record in the league, and the players are very confident they can win three in a row to come back and take the series.

“We can definitely do that,” Craig said. “We’ll be home and feel comfortable there with our own fans and know how the park plays, so it’s definitely something we can do.”

“Yeah, of course we can,” Tucker said. “We’ve done it (won three in a row) I feel like a bunch this year. This is no different. There’s obviously more added pressure, but I think we can do it.”

Game recap

Key player: RHP Eduardo Vera gave up one run on just two hits over eight innings for the Curve in a no-decision.

Key play: 1B Nellie Rodriguez won it for Akron on a walk-off homer to start the 10th inning.

Key stat: The Curve trail the series, 2-0, and have lost 10 consecutive playoff games at Akron going back to 2003.

How they scored

Top 1st: Tucker solo homer (1-0).

Bottom 6th: Carter singled, scored on Haggerty groundout (1-1).

Bottom 10th: Rodriguez solo homer (1-2).

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