Curve’s Craig wins All-Star Game in strange way

TRENTON, N.J. — Baseball All-Star Games rarely provide great drama at the end, but the Eastern League’s showcase had plenty of it Wednesday night, and Curve first baseman Will Craig became the hero in unusual fashion.

The Western Division All-Stars, featuring four Curve players and led by Altoona manager Michael Ryan and his coaching staff, carried a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth inning at Trenton’s Arm & Hammer Park. The Eastern Division then tied the game, 4-4, and that’s how it ended since they don’t go extra innings.

Instead, the EL uses a hitting contest to determine the winner of a tie game. Each side could pick one player who would get to hit for two minutes and accumulate as many points as possible, with home runs counting as 100 points, fly balls to center as 10 and to left or right 5.

With Ryan managing the Western team, it seemed obvious that he would choose his own slugger, Craig, who’s tied for the Curve lead with 12 home runs this season. Craig also took part in the EL home run derby Tuesday night and hit 12 during his round, just missing advancing to the finals by one.

Craig went first in the postgame hitting contest and got off to a slow start with some foul balls before hitting some deep fly balls. He hit one home run, then was unable to get another one over the fence for a while as Curve hitting coach Keoni De Renne was tossing BP.

But on Craig’s final swing, he belted his second home run, giving him a big boost of 100 points for a total of 305.

Reading first baseman Zach Green was chosen to hit for the Eastern Division, managed by Trenton’s Jay Bell. Green, who’s tied for second in the EL with 17 homers, belted a couple of deep balls early that just missed going over the fence.

Green hit a lot of fly balls, racking up 10 points apiece, but he was only able to put one over the fence. As his two minutes wound down, he hit some more deep ones that had a chance, but none left the yard, so he finished with 275 points.

Craig won the contest and was congratulated by his All-Star teammates, and even got a barrel of Gatorade dumped on him.

“I knew the home run derby was a thing, but I didn’t know the actual rules and the point system,” Craig told reporters after the game. “I just saw numbers kept popping up on the board, so I figured something was going right my way and not in his way. But overall, I didn’t really know what was going on.”

Craig is no stranger to a home run derby. He took part in the college derby prior to the College World Series in 2015 when he was at Wake Forest and finished second.

“Just swinging for the fences every time,” Craig said of his approach Wednesday. “I figured home runs were worth the most, so I was trying to do that. Maybe balls off the wall were worth a little bit more than groundballs, so that was about it.”

He also was asked if his experience in Tuesday’s home run derby helped prepare him for Wednesday’s postgame contest.

“It helped me and it hurt me because I was tired from (Tuesday) night,” Craig said. “My body’s a little more worn out, the bat felt a little more heavy, but overall it was pretty good.”

Curve lefty Taylor Hearn started the game for the Western Division and pitched one scoreless inning. He walked the leadoff batter, who later stole second, but Hearn was able to avoid any damage by getting two flyouts before ending the inning with a strikeout.

The Eastern Division grabbed an early 3-0 lead, but the Western stars battled back. Curve third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes helped spark the rally with an RBI single in the fifth inning. Hayes started the game and went 1-for-2.

Craig was the DH, batted fourth and went 1-for-4 with a bloop single while playing the whole way.

Curve reliever Sean Keselica also performed well, coming on to start the fifth inning and retiring the only two batters he faced on just seven pitches.

The Western Division took a 4-3 lead in the eighth, then the Eastern squad tied it on an RBI double by Trenton’s Trey Amburgey with two outs in the bottom of the ninth off Harrisburg’s Derek Self.

Despite winning the event with his postgame hitting exploits, Craig was not named the All-Star Game MVP. That award went to Richmond’s Luigi Rodriguez, whose solo homer in the eighth inning gave the Western squad a 4-3 lead.

Former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who plays for Binghamton, was on the Eastern Division squad and went 1-for-4 with a double and a strikeout. He played the whole game as the DH and came up with one out and the tying run on first base in the ninth inning with a chance to be a hero, but he struck out.

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