Curve falter in 7th
Michael Ryan leaned back in his chair and let out a long sigh.
Shortly after his team suffered another loss in which they were winning going into the seventh inning, the Curve manager was tasked with trying to describe one of the more bizarre plays of Altoona’s season.
After allowing two runs and surrendering the lead in the top of the seventh inning, the Curve drew back-to-back walks to begin their half of the seventh and seemed poised to tie the game and possibly even regain the lead with the heart of the order due up.
But just two pitches after Mitchell Tolman drew the second of those back-to-back walks, the inning was over.
Chris Sharpe’s bunt attempt went straight up in the air, Gift Ngoepe misread the play and wasn’t able to get back to second base time, and meanwhile, Tolman was in a state of confusion and started running to second base, only to be tagged out, completing the triple play.
“It’s tough,” Ryan said after the 4-3 loss to Trenton. “It’s just a bad play, one of the worst plays I’ve seen. I don’t understand how you get a triple play on a pop-up bunt.”
Ryan wasn’t alone. It seemed like everyone in the ballpark was left dumbfounded after the play was over. Combine the inability to lay down a bunt with two typically solid baserunners badly misreading a play and you end up with a result like that.
“You just gotta execute, that’s what it comes down to,” Ryan said. “The plan was to try to make (Trenton) have a difficult decision. Do you pitch to Oliva in that situation or do you not give him something to hit and load up the bases for Logan (Hill)? That’s what we were trying to accomplish, and that went away very fast.”
But that wasn’t the end of the bad luck for the Curve.
After Bligh Madris delivered a two-out single to extend the bottom of the eighth inning, Robbie Glendinning hit a line drive into the right center-field gap that was caught by a diving Rashad Crawford.
If that ball falls, Madris is scoring easily from first and the game is tied heading into the ninth.
But it still doesn’t stop there.
Jerrick Suiter hit a very similar line drive into the gap in right center to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, but again the Curve were robbed of an extra base hit as this time it was right fielder Isiah Gilliam who made the diving catch.
“There’s some really great outfielders in the league,” Ryan said. “They made two great plays.”
“Everyone in this league is good out there,” Madris added. “It’s tough to find hits and find grass sometimes.”
Outside of the lack of execution and being on the wrong end on two spectacular defensive plays, the Curve also may have lost a key piece to their starting rotation.
Pedro Vasquez, who pitched in the Eastern League All-Star Game last week, exited Monday night’s game just two and a third innings.
He struck out the second batter he faced in the top of the third inning, but immediately after the at-bat ended, Ryan, pitching coach Joel Hanrahan and athletic trainer Justin Ahrens all sprinted out to the mound to check on Vasquez.
“It just wasn’t coming out good from pitch number one,” Ryan said. “I saw him wince a couple times. I didn’t like the way he looked and then he finally said that he wasn’t feeling right and that he had some pain.”
Ryan didn’t have specifics on Vasquez’s injury, but he expects the team will find out more information in the coming days.
Given the amount of time Vasquez had in between starts — 12 days — Ryan was immediately concerned when he noticed Vasquez didn’t have his normal stuff early in the game.
“He had such a long break that he should’ve been fresh and rested up,” Ryan said. “That was the concern right away.”
Key player: Right fielder Bligh Madris, who leads the team in multi-hit games, drove in a pair of runs and registered three hits for the Curve.
Key play: Thunder centerfielder Rashad Crawford robbed Robbie Glendinning of a game-tying, RBI double with a diving catch in the alley with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Key stat: Curve reliever Blake Cederlind has now gone 10 straight appearances without allowing a run, dating back to June 9. He owns a 0.87 ERA in 20 appearances with Altoona this season.
How they scored
Top 2nd: Wagner doubled, scored on Crawford’s single. Crawford scored on Holder’s single (0-2).
Bottom 4th: Oliva reached on an error, Hill walked, both scored on Madris’ double (2-2).
Bottom 5th: Tolman walked, scored on Oliva’s single (3-2).
Top 7th: Gittens walked, Deglan singled, both scored on Alvarez’s double (3-4).
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: Despite the two runs allowed in the seventh inning, the Curve bullpen was solid in a much bigger role than anticipated heading into the night. Yeudy Garcia came in after Vasquez’s injury and threw 2.2 scoreless innings, striking out three batters in the process. Blake Cederlind and Joel Cesar also delivered, throwing back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
SAFE AT FIRST: “Yeudy really stepped up, especially because of the last two outings, the way that they’ve gone,” Ryan said. “When you’re thrown into a situation like that, the confidence has gotta be high. Credit to Yeudy, he kept us in the game and gave us an opportunity.”
STEALING SECOND: Jared Oliva continued his hot hitting on Monday night. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. In 11 games now in the month of July, Oliva is slashing .3462/.553/.667 and has turned into the type of hitter the Curve desperately needed following Hunter Owen’s promotion to Triple-A last month.
ROUNDING THIRD: “It’s always seeing one of my best friends succeed,” Bligh Madris said. “I love to see it. All of us in here want each other to succeed every single night and go to (the MLB).”
HEADING HOME: The Curve will have two more chances at home against the Thunder before hitting the road to face one of the Eastern League’s hottest teams, the Bowie Baysox, who topped Harrisburg to improve to 19-5 in the second half.