Curve on a small hot streak
The past two days could not have been scripted much better for the Curve, who may be able to use the back-to-back impressive wins as a turning point for the season.
“Time will tell,” second baseman Mitchell Tolman said. “I don’t know if it’s a turning point or not. I hope it is, but we’ll see.”
Tolman and the Curve pounded first-place Harrisburg, 8-1, Thursday night before 3,481 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Altoona had hit just eight homers in 18 home games coming it, but it belted two Thursday, including a big three-run shot from Hunter Owen in the first inning.
“Three-run homer today by Owen was the biggest play. It’s the biggest play in baseball,” manager Michael Ryan said. “That got us going.”
Lefty Cam Vieaux turned in a superb outing on the mound, and the Curve were never challenged by the league’s best team, which came in 18 games over .500.
Vieaux (2-2) allowed just one unearned run over seven innings, giving up six hits with five strikeouts and one walk. He lowered his ERA to 2.84.
“Great,” Ryan said of Vieaux’s outing. “Leadoff guy didn’t get on, he was pitching ahead in the count, attacking with the fastball. Weak early count, good defense behind him. Just did everything we asked.”
A strong effort by the Curve on Thursday could have been predicted based on what they did a day earlier. In the finale of a three-game series at Binghamton — after getting swept in a doubleheader the night before — Altoona rallied from a 5-0 first-inning deficit to pick up a 9-8 win.
The Curve belted three homers in that victory. They also survived a big ninth-inning scare as the Rumble Ponies, down 9-8, had the bases loaded with just one out before hitting into a game-ending double play.
“(Wednesday), to be honest with you, if we would not have pulled that one out, coming into this series, could have been devastating,” Ryan said. “Playing first-place club in our division, best overall record in the league, a team that we haven’t had success with but played well, I don’t know that we show up the way we did today.”
By winning in dramatic fashion early Wednesday, it gave the club a chance to be loose on the bus ride home, enjoy a night off and then come out with a lot of confidence Thursday.
That’s exactly what happened.
“It’s tough going down 5-0 in the first, but it was cool that our dugout, especially for a morning game, it didn’t seem down,” Tolman said of Wednesday’s game. “It was exciting, and getting on the bus and getting home just puts a good taste in your mouth.”
Tolman batted leadoff Thursday with Jared Oliva taking a day off, and he sparked the team by going 3-for-3 with a homer and three runs. He singled to start the first inning, Logan Hill reached on a fielder’s choice, and Owen belted his team-leading ninth homer for a quick 3-0 lead.
This Curve team doesn’t hit a lot of home runs, but if it can get a huge one like Owen hit, the offense has a chance to put up big numbers.
“It makes the biggest difference in our offense because it gives us the ability to have the big innings,” Ryan said. “When we get the big home run, especially with guys on, it just shows you what we’re capable of. The home run has been coming with maybe one guy on or a solo home run.”
Harrisburg starter Wil Crowe (4-2) came in with a 1.89 ERA but had a tough night, giving up five runs on six hits over six innings.
The Curve were up 4-1 after five innings before pulling away four more runs over their final three at-bats, including Tolman’s solo homer in the seventh off major league reliever Trevor Rosenthal.
“He’s an unbelievable fastball hitter,” Ryan said of Tolman. “Put him in the leadoff spot, we had an idea that he was going to get fastballs today. We just try to put these guys in a situation that they can have success, and hopefully he can keep that going.”
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: LHP Cam Vieaux gave up just one unearned run over seven innings to win for the Curve.
Key play: 3B Hunter Owen’s three-run homer in the first put Altoona up 3-0.
Key stat: Harrisburg came into the series with an EL-best 28-10 record and was 5-1 against the Curve before losing Thursday.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 1st: Tolman singled, Hill reached on fielder’s choice, both scored on Owen three-run homer (3-0).
Bottom 3rd: Tolman walked, scored on Hill groundout (4-0).
Top 5th: Sardinas singled, scored on Jones single (4-1).
Bottom 6th: Hill singled, scored on Pabst double (5-1).
Bottom 7th: Tolman solo homer (6-1).
Bottom 8th: Hill singled, scored on Pabst sacrifice fly (7-1); Owen doubled, scored on Reyes single (8-1).
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: Nationals RH reliever Trevor Rosenthal pitched the seventh inning on a rehab assignment for Harrisburg and gave up a solo homer to 2B Mitchell Tolman. Rosenthal has battled the yips this season with Washington — walking nine and hitting three in only three innings — and is 0-1 with a 36.00 ERA in seven MLB appearances. He’s scheduled to pitch one inning again tonight for the Senators and then be re-evaluated.
SAFE AT FIRST: Curve CF Jared Oliva missed his second straight game Thursday. The talented outfield prospect is off to a slow start, hitting .219. “Just a little bit of a mental breather for him,” manager Michael Ryan said. “He wasn’t feeling good in Binghamton. I don’t know if it was the flu or allergies; he has bad allergies. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but just wanted to give him a little bit of a breather.”
STEALING SECOND: The Curve are eight games behind Harrisburg with only 31 games left in the first half, so catching the Senators isn’t very realistic. But there are three games left in this series, and Altoona could make things a little more interesting with a sweep.
ROUNDING THIRD: The Curve needed a strong outing from LHP Cam Vieaux on Thursday after the team had posted a 6.09 ERA in the first 14 games this month. That was the highest figure in the Eastern League.
HEADING HOME: 3B Hunter Owen is tied for third in the EL with nine homers.
— Cory Giger