Curve, Ponies split close twin bill
After a lackluster performance in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, the Curve emerged from the dugout a half hour later in fresh new uniforms and with a new name — the Allegheny Yinzers.
Apparently, those black and yellow uniforms provided the spark that Altoona needed in the second game, as Chris Sharpe’s walk-off single in the ninth inning gave the Curve a 4-3 win and a split in the doubleheader at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
“Getting all new stuff — all new socks, all new jerseys — for the second game, it feels like a whole new game,” Sharpe said after the game. “Yeah, we did lose a close one the game before, but that’s the good thing about baseball, there’s a new game everyday. It was awesome we came back as resilient as we were and win a tough one like that.”
The Curve trailed only briefly in the second game, but the offense was able to come through on a ball that Sharpe hit into the ground and bounced over the second baseman’s head and into right field for the game-winning hit.
“I knew the hits weren’t in our favor tonight, a lot of our barrels got caught,” Sharpe said. “My only thought going through that at-bat was put the ball hard, somewhere. That somewhere turned out to be a beater into the ground that got over the second baseman’s head so it’s funny how it works.”
Sharpe has struggled slightly since being called up from high-A Bradenton, but his walk-off hit will surely win over a good portion of the 5,244 fans that were in attendance on Saturday night.
“It’s awesome,” Sharpe said of the crowd in Altoona, “especially coming from Bradenton were the fans aren’t too plentiful. It’s awesome, everyone here has been awesome to me. It feels like home.”
But for all the positive energy that was buzzing throughout the Curve locker room after the walk-off win, the loss in the first game was still on the mind of manager Michael Ryan.
“The result is good for the second game,” Ryan said. “We just didn’t execute very well. That’s why we’re here in Double-A to develop these guys and we’ll continue to do so, but we’ve got a lot of things that we need to get better at.”
Altoona’s offense was nowhere to be found in the first game as outside of the small rally in the seventh inning, the Curve produced just two hits through the first six innings.
Things got better in the second game from a hits standpoint as the Curve were able to generate 11 hits in nine innings, but they were just 4-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base.
But the veteran presence of Gift Ngoepe may provide some of those teaching moments that Ryan said his team needed.
“Everything,” Ryan said of what Ngoepe brings to the locker room. “He’s a veteran guy, he’s one of the best defenders you’ve ever seen. He brings a ton for these guys. A lot of these guys are going to learn from him and I’m happy he’s here.”
Defense has always been Ngoepe’s calling card and he flashed plenty of leather at shortstop in the second game, combining with Mitchell Tolman to make a spectacular, inning-ending double play in the top of the seventh inning.
“One of the best defenders you’ll see,” Ryan said.
Key player: Mitchell Tolman continues to impress in the leadoff spot, finishing with three hits and a walk in the second game of the doubleheader.
Key play: It wasn’t a hard hit ball, but Sharpe’s hit bounced right over the head of Binghamton’s Luis Carpio as the Curve picked up a walk-off victory.
Key stat: Gift Ngoepe scored the winning run — and his first of his Double-A season — despite never reaching base in the game. He started the ninth inning at second base as part of the new rules in which teams start extra innings with a runner on second base.
How they scored
Top 1st: Cecchini reached on an error by Glendinning, scored on Barnes’ double (0-1).
Top 5th: Toffey walked, scored on Cecchini’s single (0-2).
Bottom 7th: Glendinning singled, scored on Delay’s sacrifice flyout to right field (1-2).
Top 1st: Carpio hit by pitch, scored on Barnes’ double (0-1).
Bottom 1st: Tolman walked, scored on Jackson’s single (1-1).
Bottom 2nd: Pope doubled, scored on Tolman’s single (2-1).
Top 5th: Krizan walked, scored on Gimenez’s single (2-2).
Top 8th: Carpio started inning at second, scored on Brodey’s single (2-3).
Bottom 8th: Jackson started inning at second, scored on error by Binghamton pitcher (3-3).
Bottom 9th: Ngoebe started inning at second, scored on Sharpe’s walk-off single (4-3).
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: As part of the Eastern League’s new rules, that began last season, both teams started the two extra innings of the doubleheader with a runner on second base.
SAFE AT FIRST: Mitchell Tolman has been a key cog in the Curve’s impressive 18-9 record in June and has settled in nicely as the team’s leadoff hitter. After Saturday’s performance in game two, he’s now hitting .312 in June and .313 in the leadoff spot.
STEALING SECOND: “For the last month, Tolman’s been outstanding in all three phases — offense, defense and on the bases,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “He’s been outstanding, a spark plug when he’s leading off the game.”
ROUNDING THIRD: Sean Brady turned in a second consecutive quality start for the Curve as he went six innings, allowing just two runs on hits in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.
“Very good, (Brady) kept us in the game,” Ryan said of his performance, “especially after giving up one in the first. His last three outings, he gets better every inning. He keeps us in the game and that’s all you can ask of him.”
HEADING HOME: James Marvel will get the ball tomorrow afternoon for the Curve as he will look to cap off his impressive June, in which he is 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA in his five starts this month.