Curve shut out Squirrels

When Beau Sulser got the call down in the bullpen that he was going to be needed on Thursday night, he was originally confused.

The Eastern League All-Star reliever pitched five innings last night and the Curve were holding onto a slim 1-0 lead.

But then he realized that the bench was short due to a few minor injuries and the pitcher’s spot was about to come up in the bottom of the seventh inning.

After Brett Pope’s double down the left field line extended the inning, Curve manager Michael Ryan sent Sulser to the plate with two outs in the inning.

“That was easy because Suiter was unavailable, he didn’t feel well (and) we didn’t want to empty the bench in the seventh inning,” Ryan said of the decision.

“(Darnell) Sweeney was basically the only guy we had left because we didn’t want to take the chance with the (backup) catcher as well. Sulser’s been throwing some good at-bats and he was our best option at the moment.”

Sulser’s surprising season at the plate continued as he poked the ball down the left field and legged out a double, scoring Pope and extending Altoona’s lead to two in what ended up a 2-0 victory.

The Curve bench erupted and the bullpen rode the momentum from Sulser’s clutch hit to preserve the team’s 11th shutout of the season.

Sulser is now 3-for-7 this season with two extra base hits — a home run earlier this season and the double on Thursday night — and four RBIs.

“The last time it erupted it was the same thing when he hit the home run in Binghamton,” Ryan said. “They enjoy it because he always brags about how such a great hitter he is. We’ll never hear the end of this one.”

“That was my goal,” Sulser added. “I told Michael [Ryan] from the beginning of the season that my goal was to get a pinch-hit.”

Sulser’s hitting ability is quickly becoming one of the dominant topics in the postgame clubhouse banter, but his pinch-hit double wouldn’t have mattered without the performances of his fellow relievers on the mound.

Pirates reliever Clay Holmes, who was making another rehab appearance in Altoona, threw two scoreless innings after starting pitcher Cody Bolton went five strong innings without allowing a run.

Holmes allowed a leadoff triple in the second of his two innings, but promptly struck out the next three batters to preserve what was just a one-run lead at the time.

Angel German and Blake Cederlind pitched the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, and continued to shut down the Richmond lineup.

“It was all very, very impressive,” Sulser said. “When your team hasn’t been playing as well, you feel even more pressure on yourself to hold a lead coming out of the ‘pen. It’s a tough job, the bullpen is not easy. It was fun to watch.”

German picked up two strikeouts in the eighth, while Cederlind needed just seven pitches to notch his first save of the season.

“German and Cederlind just kept it going,” Ryan said. “We’ve got some really good arms out of the pen and it’s one of our strengths. They showed up tonight.”

Game recap

Key player: Cody Bolton turned in one of his best outings as a member of the Curve, throwing five scoreless innings and striking out three batters.

Key play: Curve right fielder Bligh Madris threw a bullet to the plate to retire Richmond’s Gio Brusa as he was trying to score on a base hit in the top of the second inning. It was Madris’ fifth outfield assist of the season.

Key stat: Reliever Beau Sulser is now hitting .429 on the season (3-for-7) after his two-out, pinch-hit double in the seventh inning.

How they scored

Bottom 4th: Oliva reached on a fielder’s choice, scored on Cruz’s single (1-0).

Bottom 7th: Pope doubled, scored on Sulser’s double (2-0).

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