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Getting better of Bulldog alum

Craig welcomes Claysburg’s Fleck home with inside-the-park round-tripper

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec The Curve’s Will Craig slides home on a three-run inside-the-park homer at Peoples Natural Gas Field on Tuesday.

By Cory Giger

cgiger@altoonamirror.com

There are some baseball players you look at and think, yeah, he’s a good candidate for an inside-the-park home run.

Curve first baseman Will Craig, at 6-foot-2 and 233 pounds, isn’t exactly one of those guys.

But crazy things happen in baseball, and sure enough, Craig found himself chugging around the bases for an unlikely inside-the-park homer that wound up giving the Curve a 4-3 win over Harrisburg on Tuesday night before 2,577 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

That’s the positive story line from one local perspective.

The unfortunate story line locally, though, is that Craig’s go-ahead three-run homer came off Claysburg native Kaleb Fleck, who was pitching near his hometown for the first time in front of dozens of friends and family members. Fleck wound up suffering the loss as he couldn’t protect a 2-1 Senators lead in the seventh inning.

“Uhh, never,” Craig smiled and said when asked when was the last time he hit an inside-the-park homer. “Maybe when I was a kid. Maybe. I don’t even remember, honestly. Probably when about three errors occurred. But that was crazy for me.”

Harrisburg scored in the seventh for a 2-1 lead, thanks to a dropped fly ball by Curve left fielder Jason Martin that allowed the go-ahead run to cross. Fleck came on in the bottom of the seventh and retired the first two hitters he faced, including a strikeout of pinch-hitter Elvis Escobar, much to the delight of Fleck’s cheering section near the Senators’ dugout.

The Curve rallied, though, getting back-to-back singles from Cole Tucker and Stephen Alemais, then Alemais stole second to put two runners in scoring position.

Fleck fell behind Craig 3-1, then tried to get a slider past the hitter, who had homered in his previous two games.

“The thing that’s great about Will is it’s mostly offspeed where he’s just sitting on it,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “It was a slider tonight, he’s sitting on that type pitch. You sit on that pitch and do some damage, it says a lot.”

Craig drilled a high shot to center, and Senators center fielder Rafael Bautista slowed down for a brief moment as if he had the ball measured. But the ball kept carrying, and Bautista started running back to the wall. He leaped but missed it by a couple of feet, and the ball bounced back into the outfield grass

At that point, Craig was running hard around the bases, but Bautista didn’t exactly go hard after the ball and instead sort of jogged for a few steps.

Curve third base coach Stephen Morales saw everything unfold and waved Craig toward the plate.

“Great send by Morales,” Ryan said.

“For me, first thing I thought was, OK, hit third,” Craig said of his mindset getting waved home. “That’s the first instinct because I’m running as hard as I can, and I’m basically on E (for empty) going around third.

“As soon as I started going toward home, my legs just started kind of giving on me, honestly, because who practices running an inside-the-park home run? No one, really.”

As he started getting closer to home, Craig said, “I saw like (Tucker) and all them waving me and telling me to get down, then they were kind of smiling because they knew I was going to be safe unless something crazy happened, like me falling.”

Craig’s homer gave the Curve a 4-2 lead, and they held on with Geoff Hartlieb earning the save in the ninth despite giving up one run. Yeudy Garcia (1-0) won in relief for Altoona.

Fleck (1-1) got the loss and a blown save. He had already left the Senators’ clubhouse to catch up with family and friends by the time reporters got there, and he didn’t respond to a text message from the Mirror afterward for comment.

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: 1B Will Craig hit a three-run homer for the Curve.

Key play: Craig’s inside-the-park homer in the seventh put Altoona up, 4-1.

Key stat: Curve starting pitchers have allowed only two earned runs in 27 2/3 innings one time through the five-man rotation.

SUBHD: How they scored

Bottom 1st: Tucker tripled, scored on Alemais sacrifice fly (1-0).

Top 2nd: Gutierrez singled, scored on Kelley error (1-1).

Top 7th: Gushue walked, scored on Martin error (1-2).

Bottom 7th: Tucker singled, Alemais singled, both scored on Craig inside-the-park three-run homer (4-2).

Top 9th: Hernandez singled, scored on Bautista groundout (4-3).

Next stop

Tonight: Harrisburg at Altoona, 6 p.m.

Pitchers: Curve RHP J.T. Brubaker (0-0, 1.80) vs. Senators RHP Brady Dragmire (0-0, 1.59)

Record: 4-1

Covering the bases

LEADING OFF: LHP Taylor Hearn turned in an impressive start for the Curve on Tuesday, giving up just one unearned run and one hit over five innings, striking out four with three walks. The hard-throwing lefty was acquired, along with Felipe Vazquez, from the Nationals in the Mark Melancon trade a couple of years ago. “I was impressed with how he kept the baseball down, how he mixed in his changeup and his offspeed and was able to throw those for strikes,” manager Michael Ryan said.

SAFE AT FIRST: The Curve’s rotation has been fantastic, allowing only two earned runs in 27 2/3 innings (0.65) ERA with all five starters making one start. “(J.T.) Brubaker set the tone, and it carried over with (Dario) Agrazal, he sort of one-upped it with six hits and no runs,” Ryan said. “(Brandon) Waddell comes in and wants to keep pace. It’s sort of inner competition, which is great. (Mitch) Keller was spectacular, Hearn was very good, and we’ll see if we can carry it over to start No. 2 for these guys.”

STEALING SECOND: 1B Will Craig already has three homers after hitting six last season at high-A Bradenton. “Last year I got really caught up just trying to make contact with the ball, be that average guy,” the 2016 first-round pick said. “Everyone thought I was going to hit for power coming out of college, but for me, last year I was really caught up in average and not striking out. This year, it’s not like I’m accepting striking out, but I’m not trying to let it affect my next at-bat, more or less.”

ROUNDING THIRD: OF Jason Martin was activated Tuesday after missing the first four games with a foot injury. OF Bryan Reynolds was placed on the DL with a left wrist sprain, retroactive to Monday.

HEADING HOME: Correction: Kaleb Fleck’s mother is named Angela. Due to an autocorrect error, her name appeared as Angel in a story in Tuesday’s Mirror.

— Cory Giger

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