No place like home
Madris’ winning hit delivers Curve victory
His unique first name, Bligh, translates to “home” in his family’s native country, so clearly the Curve had the right guy at the plate with the game on the line in their home opener Thursday night.
Bligh Madris brought home the winning run on a walk-off single in the 12th inning to give Altoona a 3-2 victory over Akron before 5,023 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. The Curve improved to 16-5 all-time in their home openers, and this year they’re 5-0 against longtime nemesis Akron.
“We had the right guy in the right spot,” manager Michael Ryan, who was ejected an inning earlier after arguing a controversial play, said of Madris.
The first-year Double-A player had three walk-off hits last season for high-A Bradenton, including a walk-off homer, so he’s accustomed to coming through in the clutch.
“I’m one of those guys that looks for those opportunities, and I just enjoy them,” Madris said. “I think they’re exciting and fun. That’s what this game is to me — exciting and fun. I just try to stay relaxed and take a couple breaths and remember I’m here for a reason.”
A ninth-round draft pick by the Pirates in 2017, Madris’ family is from the island nation of Palau in the South Pacific.
“I’m named after my uncle, one of the people I look up to in my life,” he said.
And the origin of his name?
“It actually means home, so I try to bring that feeling every single day, just try to make everyone feel loved and cherished,” Madris said.
His Curve teammates certainly showed him a lot of love after the game-winning hit as they mobbed him at first base.
The game was tied at 1-1 after nine innings, then both teams went scoreless in the 10th. Curve left fielder Bralin Jackson threw out Li-Jen Chu at the plate to end the Akron half and keep it tied.
The RubberDucks scored a run in the 11th — this is year two of teams having runners at second base to start each extra inning — and the Curve were gift-wrapped a tying run in their half of the inning. Robbie Glendinning rolled a ball to Alexis Pantoja with two outs, and the shortstop had it go under his glove for an error, allowing Hunter Owen to score the tying run.
The Curve appeared to win the game moments later when Rob Kaminsky threw a wild pitch and Glendinning tried to score all the way from second. Glendinning looked like he got his foot to the plate just ahead of a tag attempt by the pitcher, but he was called out.
Ryan came out and put on a show for the fans with an animated argument, and he was ejected by plate umpire Takahito Matsuda.
Replay of the close call seemed to show that Glendinning did indeed touch the plate before being tagged.
“From the angle that I saw from the dugout, I saw his foot get in before the tag,” Ryan said. “I just didn’t like the position that (the umpire) was in. I thought he could have been in a better position to make a call, and I think he could have seen it from our angle. That’s what I was arguing. Came in here and looked at it (on replay) and saw what I needed to see.”
The Curve didn’t win the game there, but they did so an inning later, thanks to Madris.
Jackson started the 12th inning on second base and took third on a groundout by Stephen Alemais. Madris, a left-handed hitter, followed with a sharp single to right to bring home the winning run.
“Bligh, really good at-bat,” Ryan said.
Tate Scioneaux (1-0) won in relief for the Curve, while Kaminsky (0-1) took the loss for Akron, which dropped to 1-7 on the young season.
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: RF Bligh Madris went 2-for-5 with an RBI.
Key play: Madris won it with a walk-off single in the 12th.
Key stat: The Curve are 6-2, and they’re now 16-5 all-time in home openers.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 6th: Suiter hit by pitch, scored on Owen double (1-0).
Top 7th: Krieger doubled, scored on Campos balk (1-1).
Top 11th: Garcia started at second, scored on Monasterio sacrifice fly (1-2).
Bottom 11th: Owen started at second, scored on Pantoja error (2-2).
Bottom 12th: Jackson started at second, scored on Madris single (3-2).
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: LHP Cam Vieaux was terrific for the Curve, tossing a one-hitter over six shutout innings. He struck out four and worked around four walks. “Tonight I saw a better breaking ball from him,” pitching coach Joel Hanrahan said. “His first game out, he threw the ball well, but he also didn’t have his best breaking ball. I think they had a lot of foul balls. You come and face the same team again the second start, and you could see the breaking ball was much better, he got a couple swing and misses on it. And he located his fastball pretty good today, too.”
SAFE AT FIRST: Pitching continues to give the Curve a chance to compete every night, and as long as that continues, the club will have a good opportunity to continue its strong start.
STEALING SECOND: “The guys having experience here last year is a great thing,” Hanrahan said of the strong pitching staff. “They knew what they needed to do coming into the season, and they’re going out there and competing. And having the guys in the bullpen who have been here before, they’ve got the experience, so we’ve got to call on those guys a little more.”
ROUNDING THIRD: SS Stephen Alemais returned to the active roster Thursday and played his first game of the season. Manager Michael Ryan said there was something that happened in spring training that kept Alemais from playing the first six games, and he had been on the extended spring training roster.
HEADING HOME: INF Alfredo Reyes was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis to open up a roster spot for Alemais.
— Cory Giger